The Bias of Crowds: Finding Implicit Bias Not in Our Minds but in Our Circumstances

Monday, Oct. 7, 2024 (3:30 PM – 5 PM)

Keith Payne

UNC Chapel Hill

Implicit bias has expanded beyond academic research and, like cognitive dissonance and nudges, entered into the cultural mainstream. Politicians talk about it, journalists write about it, and corporations require their employees to be trained about it. At the same time, the measures and methods used to study implicit bias have come under increasing criticism. How can implicit bias be so prevalent and yet stand on such apparently shaky grounds? In this talk I describe a new theory that describes implicit bias not primarily as a feature of individual minds, but as a feature of social contexts. Akin to the “wisdom of crowds” effect, implicit bias may emerge as the aggregate effect of individual fluctuations in concept accessibility that are ephemeral and context-dependent. This Bias of Crowds theory treats implicit bias tests as measures of situations more than persons. Viewing implicit bias from this perspective resolves several puzzles in the existing literature, turns supposed methodological weaknesses into strengths, and generates new insights into how and why implicit bias propagates inequalities.

Keith Payne is Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at UNC Chapel Hill. He studies the effects of inequality on human thought and behavior, and how psychological patterns create and reinforce racial and economic disparities. He is author of The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the way we Think, Live, and Die, and the forthcoming Good Reasonable People: The Psychology Behind America’s Dangerous Divide.

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