Hidden Biases of Good People

April 30, 2024 6:30 pm

Town Hall Seattle

FreeAvailableComing Soon

Headshot of Mahzarin Banaji, an Indian woman with shoulder length grey hair, hand to face, smiling at the camera, wearing an orange button down shirt and colorfully striped glasses

All humans intend to make choices and decisions that obey the virtues of accuracy and fairness. Psychological research from the last fifty years has challenged the possibility that we, in fact, do so. Specifically, we now know that our actions are often inconsistent with our values and obstruct the very goals we strive for in our work and in life. We now know that these errors are a function of our evolution as humans, the architecture of our minds, and the social contexts in which our decisions unfold. Our behavior can be inconsistent with our own values because our decisions are driven by implicit preferences and beliefs that feed into our explicit choices.   

This lecture will provide insights into how our minds work, and the often surprising and even perplexing manner by which implicit bias operates. The overarching purpose of the seminar is to reveal the mental blind spots that keep us from reaching our goals, especially in decisions that involve attention to social group qualities rather than the person. Professor Banaji will advance ideas about what implicit bias is, where it comes from, where its impact can be seen, what it predicts, and whether it is malleable. The overarching purpose is to understand implicit bias (a term she and her colleagues coined in the early 1990s) so that we can outsmart it – for our own good and that of our society and its future. 

Registration opens March 13, 2024.

About the speaker

Mahzarin Banaji

Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics, Department of Psychology, Harvard University

Banaji studies the disparities between conscious expressions of attitudes and beliefs and less conscious, implicit representations of the same. She has primarily studied social group attitudes and beliefs in adults and children, relying on behavioral measures, neuroimaging, and computational approaches to the study of large language corpora. Her work has led many institutions to call for greater consistency between statements of personal and institutional values and individual and institutional behavior. In addition to research and university teaching, Banaji’s current efforts are focused on applying evidence from the science of social cognition to improving organizational practices. She co-authored book Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People (Blindspot) and is the founder of an educational project outsmartingimplicitbias.org. 

Banaji taught at Yale from 1986-2001 where she was Reuben Post Halleck Professor of Psychology. Since then she has been Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. Banaji served as the first Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University from 2002-2008 and as the George A. and Helen Dunham Cowan Chair in Human Dynamics at the Santa Fe Institute, 2011-2015. She served as Chair of the Department of Psychology (2016-2019), and Senior Advisor to the Dean of the FAS on Faculty Development (2010-2020) and as Senior Advisor to the Provost of Harvard University for 2020-2021.  

Banaji was named Harvard College Professor for excellence in undergraduate teaching, previously won Yale’s Lex Hixon Prize for Teaching Excellence and was elected as Distinguished Member of the honor society, Psi Chi, received the Constellation Award from SPSP in 2023 and APS’s Mentor Award in 2023.  In 2005, Banaji was elected fellow of the Society for Experimental Psychologists, in 2008 to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, in 2009 was named Herbert A. Simon Fellow of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, in 2015 inducted as Fellow of the British Academy, in 2018 elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and in 2020 elected to the American Philosophical Society.  

Banaji has been awarded a James McKeen Cattell Award, the Gordon Allport Prize for Intergroup Relations, the Morton Deutsch Award for Social Justice, the Kurt Lewin Award for outstanding contributions to the integration of psychological research and social action, the Carol and Ed Diener Award for Outstanding Contributions to Social Psychology, SESP’s Award for Scientific Impact and SPSP’s Campbell Award for Distinguished Scholarly Achievement in Social Psychology. Banaji has received fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the Distinguished Cognitive Scientist Award from the University of California at Merced (2017), a Presidential Citation from the American Psychological Association.  

In 2016 Banaji received the William James Fellow Award for “a lifetime of significant intellectual contributions to the basic science of psychology” and the Cattell Award for applications of research to society from the APS, an organization of which she also served as president. In 2017 Banaji received the APA’s Award for Distinguished Scientific Contribution and in 2022 the Atkinson Prize from the National Academy of Sciences. Her contributions have been further recognized by honorary degrees from Barnard College (Medal of Distinction, 2014), Smith College (2015), Colgate University (2016), the University of Helsinki (2016) and Carnegie-Mellon University (2017). 

For more information on her research and teaching, see https://banaji.sites.fas.harvard.edu . 

Event Accessibility

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