The Bias Detective
Article

The Bias Detective

Psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt explores the roots of unconscious bias – and its tragic consequences for US society

Science, 2020

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The brain’s attempts to categorize and familiarize the world begins innocently in childhood. But as psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt discovered, over time such ingrained images can establish deep-rooted racial bias. From simply not being able to tell faces of other races apart, to larger issues of discrimination and police shootings, unconscious bias causes serious societal problems. Eberhardt’s intensely personal drive permeates her distinguished career, in which she proves that racial bias can be recognized and eliminated from society with data mining, specific training – and practice.

Summary

One facet of bigotry is the “other-race effect” which describes how some people struggle to identify the faces of other races.

In writing about unconscious racial bias, Stanford University Psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt postulates that the familiar phrase “they all look alike” stems from environmental exposure and biology. She says that criminals have learned to exploit this, citing a Black teenage gang in Oakland, California, which specialized in purse-snatching. When asked why they targeted Asian women, they said that in a lineup the women “couldn’t tell the brothers apart.”

Eberhardt thinks most people are unaware of their biases. Human brains tend to categorize visual stimuli, which leads to false assumptions and discrimination. Eberhardt and her Stanford team explore unconscious discrimination at all levels, from neurons to broader societal effects.

Eberhardt’s studies show how face recognition works, and its effects on personal and police interactions.

Eberhardt thinks that face recognition is honed through experience, rather than based on genetics. She...

About the Author

Douglas Starr is co-director of the Boston University Science Journalism Program, and is a veteran science, environment and medical writer. His most recent book is The Killer of Little Shepherds: A True Crime Story and the Birth of Forensic Science.


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