Thursday, 26 March 2015

Imperfect Cognitions in Institutional Contexts: Implicit Race Bias and the Anatomy of Institutional Racism

Jules Holroyd
On Friday 5 and Saturday 6 February 2015, the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies and The Monitoring Group held the 'Police corruption, spying and racism' conference at Conway Hall, London. One of the speakers was the Imperfect Cognitions Network member, Jules Holroyd. Here she presents her report, which has also been published on the University of Nottingham Blog "Bias and Blame". 

I recently had the opportunity to speak at an event organised by The Monitoring Group and the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, on Police Corruption, Spying, Racism and Accountability. At this conference, a range of participants from activist groups, academia, legal teams and victims of injustice spoke - often powerfully and movingly - on their experience of understanding the workings of injustice, and of endeavours to seek accountability in the face of police and Home Office obstruction, obfuscation and discrimination (videos from the conference can be found here).

I had been asked to participate in a panel on 'the anatomy of institutional racism' and speak to the possible role of implicit race bias in that context. As we know, various studies have produced the robust findings that implicit race biases are found in many individuals (in white and minority ethnicity communities). These implicit biases are fast acting, difficult to control and not readily detectable in our awareness: in other words, we may be acting in ways that are inflected with negative race bias, even if we don't think we are. Particularly worrying are the findings that black males are more strongly associated with words connoting danger than white males, and in particular with terms associated with weapons. Perception too seems to be shaped by negative implicit associations: individuals are more likely to identify an ambiguous object as a dangerous weapon when in the hands of a black male than a white male (Payne 2001, Eberhardt et al 2004). Disturbingly, in simulations individuals more readily shot black males who were armed than white males who were armed.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Implicit Bias, Confabulation, and Epistemic Innocence

This is the last in our series of posts on the papers published in a special issue of Consciousness and Cognition on the Costs and Benefits of Imperfect Cognitions. Here I summarise my paper ‘Implicit Bias, Confabulation, and Epistemic Innocence’.

I explore the nature of confabulatory explanations of action guided by implicit bias by focusing on two imaginary cases: 

The case of Roger: ‘Roger is on a hiring panel deciding from a stack of CVs which candidates to invite to interview. Roger thinks of himself as an egalitarian, and not as somebody who is sexist. The CVs are not anonymous with respect to gender. Roger chooses not to invite any female applicants to interview. Katie is one of the female candidates who Roger chooses not to invite to interview. Katie’s CV is of equal or better quality than at least some of her male competitors who did get invited to interview, and had Katie’s CV been headed with a male name, Katie would have been invited to interview’ (p. 3).

The case of Sylvia: ‘Sylvia is walking down the road on her way to work. Sylvia thinks of herself as an egalitarian, and not as somebody who is racist. She sees a black man walking towards her. Sylvia crosses the road. The man is not acting in a threatening manner. Had the man not been black, Sylvia would not have crossed the road’ (p. 3).

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Observer Memory: Interview with John Sutton

John Sutton
I interviewed John Sutton, Professor of Cognitive Science at the ARC Centre for Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders at Macquarie University, Sydney. John is interested in memory, skill, and distributed cognition, and in his work he seeks to integrate philosophical, psychological, and historical ideas and methods. This is the second in a series of three posts, you can read the first here.

ES-B: What is observer memory? 

JS: When I think about some experience I had, maybe a mundane event like having lunch yesterday with a lot of people, I can sometimes see myself in the remembered scene. So instead of being behind my own eyes when I remember that lunch yesterday, seeing my knife and fork coming up to my face as I eat, instead I can be looking at myself in the memory from an external perspective, and that is why we use the phrase ‘observer perspective’. It is as if I am above the group: I see them all and I see myself there in some way as part of that group. We contrast the notion of an observer perspective with a field perspective in which you are seeing the events in memory from your own original field of vision. The field perspective is probably for most people more common and some people seem to have only a field perspective.

ES-B: Might it be that field memories are felt to be more reliable representations of, or relations to, the past, on the grounds that the remembered scene is remembered as it was experienced, or at least, closer to that ideal? 

JS: I think that is pretty much right. These are not deterministic relationships, these are tendencies and they vary across people, but as you say, memories in which I experience the past event from a field perspective may be more reliable. What we are more sure about is that they tend to be more common with more recent past events, and we do not really know why but that is a pretty robust result: the longer ago the event was—certainly for adults having memories from their childhood, but even for adults having memories from their adulthood when there is enough of a gap—the more likely they are to come up from an observer perspective. So independently, there is some (imperfect) correlation between the age of the event remembered and the reliability, but we are not sure, it is an important theoretical question whether there is any more direct connection between reliability and perspective than that, that is one of the driving questions of our project.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Implicit Bias, Awareness, and Imperfect Cognitions

This is the seventh in our series of posts on the papers published in a special issue of Consciousness and Cognition on the Costs and Benefits of Imperfect Cognitions. Here Jules Holroyd summarises her paper 'Implicit Bias, Awareness and Imperfect Cognitions'. 

Implicitly biased actions are those that manifest the distorting influence of implicit associations. For example, a member of a hiring committee might demonstrate implicit bias in undervaluing the research history of an applicant because of negative implicit associations with her gender or race. Implicit associations are typically characterised as operating automatically, fast, beyond the reach of direct control. Sometimes they are also characterised as unconscious. This last thought - that they are associations of which we are not aware - is a premise used in arguments for the conclusion that individuals cannot be responsible for the extent to which their actions are implicitly biased. How could that margin of discrimination be something you are responsible for, if you were unaware of the association producing it, or that your behaviour was discriminatory at all?

This is a tempting thought (and one articulated, in various guises, in Jennifer Saul 2013 and Natalia Washington & Dan Kelly 2013), but in this paper I argue against it. It is not at all obvious that ignorance exculpates. What matters is not what an individual is or is not aware of - does or does not know - so much as what she should be aware of. So, if we want to evaluate whether an individual is exculpated from responsibility, it does not suffice to show that she lacks awareness of some relevant facts (such as that she is implicitly biased, or that her action is discriminatory). It may be that she lacks awareness of something that she should be aware of. And that state of ignorance might itself be culpable. Accordingly, we need to isolate the relevant normative condition (of what should an individual be aware), and ask then two questions: i) can individuals have this sort of awareness?; ii) when they lack it, is this lack culpable? This latter question asks us to explore why individuals may lack awareness of implicitly biased actions, and evaluate whether this lack is itself innocent or culpable.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Aberrant Beliefs and Reasoning

Aberrant Beliefs and Reasoning
In this post, Niall Galbraith, psychologist and Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Wolverhampton, introduces a new book he edited, Aberrant Beliefs and Reasoning (Current Issues in Thinking and Reasoning series, Psychology Press, 2014). Niall's research interests include the study of beliefs – such as delusions - and the psychological factors that make one more or less prone to developing such beliefs.

The book is a new edited text with contributions from a collection of leading authors in the field. An aberrant belief is extreme or unusual in nature. In the most serious cases these beliefs cause emotional distress in those who hold them, and typify the core symptoms of psychological disorders. The issue of whether reasoning plays a role in aberrant beliefs has become increasingly important for psychology, psychiatry and philosophy.