A new study reveals that even unconscious racism has real effects: those with unconscious biases against black (or, more rarely, white) people treated them differently in a game involving money.
According to ABC, psychologists tested subjects for conscious and unconscious racism, and then asked them to rate the trustworthiness of black and white faces. They then assigned them to play "a trust-based economic reward game" with either a black or a white partner. They found that people who had shown an unconscious bias against black people were less likely to rate them as trustworthy, and risked less money with black partners than with white ones. The few subjects with an anti-white bias treated white partners with similar distrust.
Of course, it shouldn't be a shock that racism causes people to treat others with mistrust. But experts point out that it's important to recognize that unconscious biases have effects in the real world. Professor of medicine Leslie Hausmann tells ABC, "Despite study after study showing that implicit bias exists, it's still something that a lot of people don't internalize within their own lives and behavior. There's a reluctance to admit that in our day-to-day lives, we have this and it matters." And the study authors note that research reveals unconscious bias in the way some doctors prescribe medications.
The trust-game study also has a lot of potential real-world applications. It would be interesting to see how unconscious bias might affect the salaries employers offer, or whether and on what terms a bank will give someone a loan. These are both, in some ways, monetary risks, and it's possible that racism-tinged lack of trust is behind some of this country's social inequalities. It's harder to study these issues in real scenarios than with photographs and games, but if we want to get to the root of economic injustice, it may be necessary.
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