A Closer Look

Unconscious racial biases are heightened by the downturn study finds

It looks as though a more subtle form of racial bias may have played a role as well—thanks to psychological factors that, in a recession, tend to make those biases worse. Capture d’écran 2014-06-12 à 13.17.21

The new study is by Amy Krosch and David Amodio of New York University. Amodio in particular has extensively studied what are called “implicit” racial biases: Uncontrolled prejudices that manifest themselves in our split-second reactions to images or in other cognitive tests. According to one estimate, for instance, 75 percent of whites harbor these subtle, subconscious biases in favor of other whites, and against blacks.

The study adds a new twist to this large and well established literature on unconscious biases. It finds that when people are made to think about economic scarcity—as they inevitably are during a stressful recession—their subconscious perceptions of race change as well. In particular, they are more likely to internally visualize African American faces as being darker in color and more “stereotypically black”—perceptions related, in prior research, to the expression of higher levels of discrimination. The study even found that when asked to divvy up money between two people, white study participants allocated less money to an individual who was perceived as being more stereotypically black.

What might that mean in the real world? Racial biases, heightened by the downturn, might have filtered into “hiring or firing decisions, or decisions about home ownership loans, dealing with foreclosure, or other things that came out of the recession,” Amodio speculates.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at  STUDY: Economic Hardship Makes People More Racially Biased | Mother Jones.


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