Psychologists Mahzarin Banaji of Harvard University and Anthony Greenwald of the University of Washington are authors of the book The Blind Spot, which examines the existence of implicit biases and prejudices that we often carry, of which we are not even aware:
“Blindspot” is a metaphor to capture that portion of the mind that houses hidden biases. The authors use it to ask about the extent to which social groups – without our awareness or conscious control – shape our likes and dislikes, our judgments about people’s character, abilities, and potential.
The authors studied the results of a test they developed called the Implicit Association Test (or “IAT”, you can test yourself on the demo version here) which sheds light on the existence of bias that operates even though a person may themselves express the lack of such prejudice. In an interview with the Boston Globe, Mahzarin Banaji talks about the revelation she experienced after she took the IAT about her own racial biases despite being an immigrant to the United States and cognizant of race issues:
…when I took the test … it was stunning for me to discover that my hands were literally frozen when I had to associate black with good. It’s like I couldn’t find the key on the keyboard, and doing the other version, the white-good, black-bad version was trivial.
In another interview with Bloggingheads.tv, Mahzarin Banaji discusses these hidden biases we hold, and strategies we can use to address them. Often, these biases are not intended by “good people”, but we are often in denial about our own biases until we come face-to-face with this information.
Despite their presence in our consciousness, Mahzarin believes that these invisible biases we hold are malleable. Individual experience can be used to influence our implicit biases, and so increasing the variety of our experiences can help deflect us from our default culturally-shaped attitudes.