9 Studies That Show We’re All a Little Biased

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9 Studies That Show We’re All a Little Biased

9 Studies That Show We’re All a Little Biased

No one wants to think that they’re racist, sexist, or in any way biased. We’re a post-racial, post-sexist society after all. Except, of course, for the times that we aren’t. Social scientists have been running experiments to test how we perceive others for years, and thanks to all those studies we now have a whole backlog of evidence that even the most open-minded of us is unintentionally biased. Here are 9 pieces of evidence that might make you question your bias.

1. Male and female professors

In a study published earlier this year, researchers asked students in an online course to rate their professors. Across the board, the students rated the male professors higher than the female professors. But here’s the catch: in reality, there was one male professor and one female professor. Each of these professors taught half of their classes telling their students they were the opposite gender (online classes remember?). Regardless of who was actually teaching the course, students rated professors they believed to be male higher. Apparently having that Mr. before your name was enough to bump your ratings.

2. Implicit Association Tests

Most people think of bias as something obvious. If you say racist or sexist things, you’re biased. The Implicit Association Test shows that bias can be far more subtle, and that many of us who would never openly act in biased ways can actually hold some quiet assumptions that show bias. In the test, subjects are asked to sort images and words as bad or good and black or white. The images show faces, while the words are associated with a moral label. Sometimes black and good are located on the same side of the screen, while other times white and good are together. The test has been taken over a million times, and in the majority of cases, test takers have faster reaction times when white and good are paired together. The test can also be done with gender, and also shows overwhelming bias towards men.

3. What’s in a name?

It’s illegal to discriminate based on gender or race in hiring and firing practices, but according to recent studies that hasn’t stopped employers. A recent study from the University of Chicago sent resumes that had comparable experience, but names that were “white-sounding” e.g. Brendan or Emily, or “black sounding” e.g. Lakisha or Jamal. Applicants with black names received significantly fewer responses from potential employers, despite being evenly matched in experience and qualifications. A similar study from Stanford sent resumes out to STEM employers with either the name John or Jennifer. In this case, the resumes were otherwise identical. Jennifer was judged less competent and offered a lower starting salary than John. Apparently bias is what’s in a name.

4. Blue eyes/brown eyes

One of the seminal experiments in bias was not technically an experiment but a teaching moment. After Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, one elementary school teacher decided to give her students an experience in bias. Jane Elliot told her students that they would be divided into students that had blue eyes and students that had brown eyes, because blue eyed students were not as good as the brown-eyed students. Surprisingly, the children took to the in groups within a day, brown eyed children insulting and harassing blue eyed children. Students even began to perform differently on their schoolwork based on which group they were assigned. While not evidence of pre-existing bias, the experiment illustrates how quickly our brains will latch on to stereotypes and misinformation.

5. It’s all in your head

People who have mental illnesses can vouch for the fact that they’re often not taken seriously, but a number of studies have shown the existence of a phenomenon called diagnostic overshadowing. The term describes the practice of doctors misattributing physical illness and symptoms to an already diagnosed mental illness, which leads to sub-par treatment for the patient. One of the consequences is a shortened lifespan for those with mental illness. Some doctors even go so far as to tell their mentally ill patients that other symptoms are “all in your head“, discounting the patient’s experience because of the existence of mental illness. A study from the University of Queensland shows evidence that even providers of mental health services show stigmatizing beliefs about people with mental illness.

6. Money makes the world go around

The internet was supposed to launch us into a post-racial society by allowing us all to hide the color of our skin and preventing discrimination and bias. Unfortunately, this might not be true, and one piece of evidence that illustrates bias might still exist in the internet age comes from a 201o study about selling iPods online. In this study, researchers placed ads that included a photo of the iPod for sale held by either a white hand or a black hand. Black sellers received fewer offers and lower offers on their product, and many buyers took more precautions with their money and shipping when working with a black seller. It appears bias sneaks out in unexpected ways.

7. Fat applicants need not apply

Statistically speaking, overweight individuals make less money in comparable positions to their slimmer coworkers. But it took a study in 2012 to show that weight bias was the culprit here. Researchers sent out resumes that included a photo of the applicant either before or after weight loss surgery. Those who were overweight in the picture were offered lower starting salaries and were less likely to be offered a job.

8. Use your words

Most people assume that if we can’t see someone, we can’t have any bias against them based on their race. But bias finds a way! Researcher John Baugh has studied how different dialects affect response rates in job inquiries and housing inquiries, and his findings show that employers and property owners are far more likely to respond to a caller if that individual speaks in a white dialect. In some instances, landlords would even lie about whether they had vacancies to a black or Latino sounding caller, but subsequently tell a white caller that there was an apartment available. The only difference between the callers was the dialect of English they used.

9. Religious or not, don’t include it on your resume

An unsurprising finding from a study in Social Currents was that including a signifier of your religious affiliation on your resume results in fewer responses from potential employers. But what was surprising was that among those who included a religious affiliation, Muslims were over 50% less likely to receive a phone call, and atheists and pagans also received high levels of discrimination from potential employers. Like other studies, the resumes were comparable in every way but religious affiliation.

Related topics bias, discrimination, racism, sexism, sizeism
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