Fighting implicit bias while sleeping.

The study, published in Science, began with two Pavlovian-style conditioning exercises designed to counter race and gender biases. In the first, participants were shown female faces with words linked to maths or science and in the second, black faces appeared with pleasant words.

During the tasks, two distinctive sounds were played – one that came to be strongly associated with the gender pairs and the other with the race pairs.

Following the training, participants took a 90 minute nap and once they entered a deep sleep, without their knowledge, one of the sounds was played repeatedly.

After the counter-bias training exercise, and before the nap, people’s bias tended to have fallen, but without the extra cues during sleep, their level of bias had almost recovered to baseline after the nap. However, when participants were played the sound cues during sleep, their bias scores reduced by a further 56% compared to their pre-sleep score. Their scores remained reduced by around 20% compared to their initial baseline when the participants were tested one week later.

I am filing this one under “important if true”.

Examples of implicit racial bias at work

An article in the NY Times contains important information on research into implicit bias. It also has a number of useful, though upsetting, examples. Here are some of them:

■ When doctors were shown patient histories and asked to make judgments about heart disease, they were much less likely to recommend cardiac catheterization (a helpful procedure) to black patients — even when their medical files were statistically identical to those of white patients.

■ When whites and blacks were sent to bargain for a used car, blacks were offered initial prices roughly $700 higher, and they received far smaller concessions.

■ Several studies found that sending emails with stereotypically black names in response to apartment-rental ads on Craigslist elicited fewer responses than sending ones with white names. A regularly repeated study by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development sent African-Americans and whites to look at apartments and found that African-Americans were shown fewer apartments to rent and houses for sale.

■ White state legislators were found to be less likely to respond to constituents with African-American names. This was true of legislators in both political parties.

■ Emails sent to faculty members at universities, asking to talk about research opportunities, were more likely to get a reply if a stereotypically white name was used.

■ Even eBay auctions were not immune. When iPods were auctioned on eBay, researchers randomly varied the skin color on the hand holding the iPod. A white hand holding the iPod received 21 percent more offers than a black hand.

■ The criminal justice system — the focus of current debates — is harder to examine this way. One study, though, found a clever method. The pools of people from which jurors are chosen are effectively random. Analyzing this natural experiment revealed that an all-white jury was 16 percentage points more likely to convict a black defendant than a white one, but when a jury had one black member, it convicted both at the same rate.

A number of these can also be used as examples of white privilege.

Rankings and Implicit Bias

There’s some really interesting discussion starting to take place about the pros and cons of various kinds of ranking systems for philosophy. A couple of years ago I wrote a paper on the potential for implicit bias in both the PGR and the REF. I thought it might be useful for that paper to be a part of these discussions, so I’m posting the penultimate draft of it here. (Also, I can’t figure out how to use my university’s newly updated CMS. Grr!)

The paper is “Ranking Exercises in Philosophy and Implicit Bias”, in Journal of Social Philosophy, 43:3, 2012.


It was only after publishing the paper that I noticed another interesting difference between REF and PGR. I’m no great fan of the REF– it has lots of problems, but it does have the nice feature of not weighting an areas of philosophy more heavily than any others. Whatever area your work is in, it’s only ranked by people in your area, and there’s no overall ranking of departments, except in so far as various competing ones can be (and are) arrived at through the rankings of work, impact, etc. So there’s no case to be made that a department will do better in the REF by hiring an analytic metaphysician than a pragmatist. Departments are free to just go by quality and teaching/supervising needs, without worrying that they should favour particular areas for the sake of the rankings.

New study further confirms implicit bias towards non-native speakers of English at work

Published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, here.


We propose and test a new theory explaining glass-ceiling bias against nonnative speakers as driven by perceptions that nonnative speakers have weak political skill. Although nonnative accent is a complex signal, its effects on assessments of the speakers’ political skill are something that speakers can actively mitigate; this makes it an important bias to understand.


There are interesting tie-ins with an earlier post in this blog on bias and foreign languages.

Thanks F!

Gender, the Fed, male networks and implicit bias

Great article by Matt Yglesias. (Thanks, M!)

I think about myself. I’m a man. Like most American men, I’d say a majority of my close friends are men. What’s more, most political journalists are men. So when I think about my closest personal associates in the field of political journalism, I come up with a list of cronies and buddies and confidantes who are mostly men. And that’s life. But precisely because this is such a banal state of affairs, I try to go out of my way to be cognizant of it when I’m in a position to suggest candidates for jobs. If I go about devising a “gender blind” list of suggestions, I’m going to come up with a male-dominated list. Not because I’m some egregious misogynist, but because that’s my life and that’s my field. But this men-recommending-other-men dynamic is poisonous for the profession and for the world. The right thing to do is to sit around and say “I’m going to come up with some women to add to my list of recommendations before sending it over even if that means I need to think a bit harder.” Because unless someone does that, nothing ever changes.

Implicit bias and the old boys’ network

Kieran Healy has dramatically demonstrated just how much women are left out of citation networks in philosophy. I think it’s vital to do some hard thinking about what this means and what we can do about it. One reason it’s vital is that citation rates DO get used in hiring, tenure and promotion decisions. We need to make sure that the Healy data don’t just get used as a nice list of who should be getting job offers from leading departments. We need to see the data as what they almost certainly are: an illustration of implicit bias in action. We don’t have direct evidence for this, but it’s exactly what we’d predict from what we know about implicit biases. Just as the first names to leap to mind for your conference (or syllabus) are likely to be male, the first names to leap to mind for your bibliography are likely to be male.

Prompted by Healy’s work, Ross Cameron’s been reflecting eloquently on this on Facebook:

Looked at the bibliographies in my papers for the last few years. In almost all of them, I have citations to women, BUT (i) they are significantly outnumbered, more so than I expected and (ii) it tends to be the same women I’m citing again and again (more so, I think, than that it’s the same men I’m citing again and again).

Just like many of us have been making a conscious effort to invite women to workshops etc, and trying to think outside the box about who to invite (“Oh, Katherine Hawley, Karen Bennett and Laurie Paul are all busy. Better just have an all dude metaphysics workshop then!”) it seems clear that we need to also concentrate on making a conscious effort to cite women and to think outside the box about who to cite.

I am lazy about scholarship, no doubt about it, but there’s no excuse for laziness if that means you’re contributing to injustice. Time for the Gendered Citation Campaign!

I hereby urge you all to go look at your bibliographies, and– even more importantly– make sure you actively think about what women you should cite in current and future papers. Also: speak up when people use citation data to argue against hiring or promoting a woman. Show them the Healy data, and talk to them about implicit bias.

UPDATE: And when you’re refereeing, have a look at the references. If the author is leaving out women who should be in, suggest that they add them.