From the Economist:
In a just published paper in Psychological Science, “Temporal Distance and Discrimination An Audit Study in Academia,” Katherine Milkman of Wharton, Modupe Akinola of Columbia and Dolly Chugh of New York’s Stern school report on their study which set out to see if timing made a difference in bias in the student/professor relationship.
The researchers set up an experiment in which made-up “prospective students” e-mailed 6,548 professors to set up a meeting. The researchers sought to answer a simple question: could something as small as the timing of a meeting increase discrimination against minorities and women? The supposed new students requested ten minutes of the professors’ time. The only details changed from email to email was, first, the name of the student, to signal sex or ethnicity, and second, the time requested for meeting, either later on the day the email was sent, or any time a week later.
For same-day appointments, about a third of professors were willing to set up meetings, and the rate did not differ between purported white male students and purported minority students. But for the appointment a week out, the minorities’ acceptance rate was significantly less; it even took longer, on average, for professors to reply.
The authors call this a “temporal discrimination effect”. It is easier to name than to explain. Previous research has suggested that people might look for more palatable reasons to display discriminatory behavior, such as the cheek of requesting a same-day appointment. But the authors analysed a sample of the reply emails, to find the professors who concentrated on setting up a meeting for the same day were concerned primarily with logistics. Once scheduling meetings well in advance, however, they were more likely to ask what the meeting was for―and, apparently, more likely to think negatively of the requester.
The best explanation Messrs Milkman, Akinola and Chugh can suggest is that pushing the meeting a week forward makes it more abstract, leaving the professor more likely to indulge, however unconsciously, in stereotyping. Being academics themselves, they do not go so far as to suggest that minority students should be more demanding of their professors’ time.
The abstract of the paper is here.