|The Horrors of Self-Esteem
||Our predecessors thought that self-esteem was a horrible notion. They were right.
|The Deepest War Wound May Be the Anguish of Moral Injury
||That the military code — never abandon a buddy, bring all your troops home, don't put innocents at risk — is impossible to meet doesn't always register deep down. The result may be shame, and all too often suicidal shame.
|Andrea Yates 14 Years Later – Should She Be Free?
||Most of us can remember the shock we felt in June 2001 when the story of Andrea Yates surfaced. The mother of five waited for her husband, Rusty, to leave … ...
|Can Women Ever Be Taken Seriously?
||Gravitas, or the assertion of power through body language, is a concept usually associated with men. However, it is possible under the right circumstances for women to have a piece of the power dynamic pie.
|Dealing With Parenting Obsessions
||In her article, The Merry Go Round of Obsessions, pediatric behavioral occupational therapist Miriam Manela offers 10 ways to stop obsessing....
|The Importance of Play
||With a full-time job, errands and responsibilities I often overlook the importance of integrating play in my life. After all, play and play therapy is for children, right? But when I take even a few minutes a day to play in the sand, draw or … ...
|Understanding Bipolar II
||Recently I’ve come across individuals (more so than usual) that aren’t really educated in Bipolar II. Like most mental illnesses, stigma usually takes front stage by people who have little to … ...
|Life in the Slow Lane
||Modern middle American life is a blessed experience from an evolutionary perspective. If you're "in the middle," then you have the luxury of experience a "high k" life history strategy. Read on to see how lucky you are for this fact!
|Can We Reduce Bias in Criminal Justice?
||Long before Officer Darren Wilson fired the shots that killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, questions of racial bias have hovered over the criminal justice system in the United States. While the problem has been increasingly well documented, so far the solutions have proved elusive.
In 2009, while chasing a man he caught breaking into his car, off-duty New York City police officer Omar Edwards was shot and killed by a fellow officer, Andrew Dunton, who saw Edwards with his gun drawn and mistook him for a criminal.
Edwards was African-American; Dunton is white. The incident prompted then-New York Governor David Patterson to create a task force to review all cases from the previous 30 years in which a police officer had mistakenly shot and killed another officer anywhere in the United States; it also explored hundreds of similar cases of mistaken identity that did not prove fatal, with an eye toward preventing future shootings.
Given that a disproportionate number of the victims were black or Hispanic—12 of the 26 officers killed in the United States between 1981 and 2009, including 9 of the 10 who were off-duty—the task force members felt obligated to consider the role of race. Their conclusion? Weeding “virulent racists” out of police departments is not enough. Instead, getting to the root of the problem required “police departments to go beyond the issue of overt bias to deal with the unconscious biases that influence all people, including police officers,” they wrote. (The emphasis is theirs.)
They based that conclusion on a considerable body of scientific research. For instance, their report cites studies by psychologist Joshua Correll, who is now at the University of Colorado, in which police officers and civilians had to make split-second decisions about whether to shoot black or white suspects in a video game; some of those suspects were holding a gun, some were holding other objects, like a cell phone or wallet. Correll and his colleagues found that both police and community members were quicker to shoot blacks with guns than whites with guns, and they took longer to decide against shooting the unarmed black suspects than the unarmed white suspects. This was true regardless of whether the person pulling the trigger was white or black.
Taken together, what this and many other studies suggest is that our attitudes and behavior toward other people—particularly, but not only, people of color—are often guided by deeply ingrained judgments that operate below the conscious level. These subtle, practically automatic judgments stem from our evolutionary propensity to be wary of those who seem unfamiliar or different from us, and they’re guided by prevailing cultural stereotypes that run so deep that they can even make African Americans suspicious of people of their own race, as Correll’s work indicates. These judgments can betray prejudices that we didn’t even know we had—which makes them especially difficult to control. And in the heat of the moment, they can have tragic consequences.
The New York task force completed its report in the spring of 2010. It offered a set of recommendations for law enforcement agencies at the local, state, and federal levels, warning that, “if recent patterns hold, it is likely that another police department somewhere in the United States will find itself facing just such a tragedy this year, another will face one in 2011, and so on in the future.”
They were referring specifically to police-on-police shootings, but they made clear that their recommendations were intended to prevent the deaths of innocent civilians as well. One of those recommendations was to “accelerate the development of testing and training to measurably reduce unconscious racial bias in shoot/don’t shoot decisions.” That would include creating a federal center to spread research-based methods for reducing unconscious racial bias over the next five years.
Five years later, of course, we have not seen tremendous growth in programs to reduce unconscious racial bias. But recently—and particularly after Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri—we have seen growing awareness of the science cited by the task force. In the wake of Brown’s death, research on unconscious (or “implicit”) bias was featured prominently, sometimes repeatedly, in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and many other major media outlets.
Perhaps the most profound—and surprising—mention came in a February speech by James Comey, the director of the FBI, in which he addressed the deaths of Brown and Eric Garner by saying that “much research points to the widespread existence of unconscious bias.
“Many people in our white-majority culture have unconscious racial biases and react differently to a white face than a black face,” he continued, later adding, “Those of us in law enforcement must redouble our efforts to resist bias and prejudice.”
Those kinds of efforts are now getting off the ground. Earlier this month, California attorney general Kamala Harris announced that, in the fall, the state will launch the nation’s first certified, state-wide program to train law enforcement officers in how to avoid unconscious bias. In September, former attorney general Eric Holder launched the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, which will use a $4.75 million grant from the Justice Department to improve relationships between minority communities and law enforcement agencies, including by targeting unconscious biases among law enforcement officers.
The challenge for these programs is not only to reduce the number of mistaken shootings but to address inequities across the criminal justice system. People of color—especially black men—are significantly more likely to be stopped and questioned by police, to be arrested, to be incarcerated, and to receive harsher sentences than whites, to an extent that far eclipses the actual number and relative severity of the crimes they commit.
Indeed, a study by Jennifer Eberhardt of Stanford University has found that black men convicted of capital crimes are more than twice as likely to be sentenced to death if they have facial features deemed to be more stereotypically “black-looking,” suggesting how subtle racial biases can sway decisions in the courtroom as well as on the street. This finding was echoed in a more recent paper co-authored by Eberhardt, published in the journal Psychological Science, that found that teachers were inclined to punish black students more severely than white students even when their classroom misbehavior was exactly the same.
Despite all of these troubling discoveries, the research also offers grounds for optimism. Neuroscience research by Susan Fiske at Princeton University, for instance, suggests that our unconscious biases are actually quite malleable. When Fiske and her colleagues showed white study participants photos of African-American faces and asked them to guess whether the people in the photos were over 21, the participants’ brain activity spiked in the amygdala, a region involved in the fear response. But when they were asked whether the people in the photos liked a certain vegetable, their amygdala activity was the same as when they saw white faces. In other words, when they were prompted to see African Americans as individuals with their own unique tastes and preferences, rather than as anonymous members of a group, their biases dissolved. A subtle social cue could make a critical difference.
And in Correll’s research, even though police officers were quicker to shoot black suspects with a gun than white suspects with a gun, the officers were less likely than civilians to pull the trigger on unarmed black suspects, and they didn’t shoot these suspects any more than they shot unarmed whites. This suggests that police officers are not any more susceptible to unconscious racial biases than the rest of the public—and, in fact, there might even be something in their training that helps guard against their biases. What’s more, a study by Florida State University researchers has found that officers who reported having positive contact with black people were less likely to shoot unarmed black suspects in a computer simulation.
These findings suggest that with the right experiences and training, we can mitigate the pernicious effects of unconscious racial biases. It may even be possible to not develop certain biases in the first place.
So what should be done? This question feels especially pertinent in the wake of events in Ferguson, Staten Island, North Charleston, and elsewhere. But it also takes on a special urgency now that the media, the public, and law enforcement officials are becoming more aware of the research on unconscious bias and what it means for our criminal justice system. There’s an opportunity to turn this awareness into action.
That is why Greater Good has invited a range of leading experts—psychologists, law enforcement officials, and others—to answer this question: If you could take concrete steps to mitigate the effects of implicit bias on the criminal justice system—whether in arrests, convictions, sentencing, or police shootings—what would those be? Over the next two months, we will be publishing their response essays on our site.
We realize that there are no easy solutions to this issue, no panacea. But we trust that the exceptionally knowledgeable and experienced contributors to this series—experts in the science of unconscious bias as well as in policing—will surface some provocative and practical ideas to help move this conversation forward.
While expunging all biases and prejudices from our minds is psychologically impossible, we believe it is possible to reduce or prevent the most harmful effects of those biases. Getting there will require time, openness, and great political will. But it will also require something that is fundamental to our mission: learning lessons from social science research, and applying them thoughtfully to promote the greater good.
|Memory: 5 Amazing New Facts You Should Know
New research reveals how to 'turn on' your memory, how to flush out useless memories and more...
» Continue reading: Memory: 5 Amazing New Facts You Should Know
» Read HealthiestBlog.com, the new site from PsyBlog's author
Related articles:Memory and Recall: 10 Amazing Facts You Should Know
Memory: The Weirdest Ever Fact is Actually True, Study Reveals
How To Improve Memory Five-Fold in 45 Minutes
Music’s Amazing Effect on Long-Term Memory and Mental Abilities In General
Classical Music’s Surprising Effect on Genes Vital to Memory and Learning
|What Anxiety Does
||My therapists have always told me that the more I try to block out intrusive thoughts, the more they will come. They used the common metaphor of the purple elephant: try not to think of a purple elephant and you most certainly will. I kept … ...
|The Difference Between an Obsession and an Addiction
||Helping your clients discern between an obsession and an addition can be quite a challenge. They may believe their behavior is obsessive when in reality it is addictive. The distinction … ...
|All The Rage
||Beserkers is a culture-bound condition historically affecting Norsemen. The condition manifested itself among males only as an intense fury and rage (berserkergang, i.e., “going beserk”) and mostly occurred in battle situations. But what more do we know about it from a psychological perspective?
|When society isn’t judging, women’s sex drive rivals men’s
||Men just want sex more than women. I’m sure you’ve heard that one. Stephen Fry even went as far as suggesting in 2010 that straight women only went to bed with men because sex was “the price they are willing to pay for a relationship”. Or perhaps you’ve even heard some of the evidence. In […]
|Identifying your Emotional Lessons
||You may be suffering from the pain of internal pressure. You were not taught in school how to identify the presence of inner stress. You never learned where it came … ...
|Women show persistent memory impairment after concussion
||Women may have a more difficult time than men in recovering from concussion, according to a new study. Concussion, also known as mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI), is a common medical problem affecting cognitive function and quality of life in some individuals.
|How to stop songs from getting stuck in our heads? Chew some gum!
||An effective solution to get rid of earworms, those annoying tunes that keep on re-playing in never ending loops in our heads, has been found. The best way to block obsessive melodies is neither to read a good novel nor solve complex anagrams but, simply, to chew gum.
|The Contradictions of Cliches
||What common clichés reveal about the popular psychology of our time.
|Best of Our Blogs: April 28, 2015
||“First, say to yourself, I’m totally independent of the good and bad opinions of others.’ Second: ‘I’m beneath no one.’ Third: ‘I’m fearless in the face of any and all challenges.'” – Deepak Chopra I tell myself the first statement often. As a sensitive person, I’m … ...
|Finish Your Screenplay Now: Motivational Tricks: Part 1...
||As a screenwriting coach, I tell my clients their number one goal is to finish your screenplay. Don’t get bogged down going back to scenes you’ve already written and rewrite … ...