If you were shown a picture of a black person and a white person and asked ‘who do you trust more,’ your actual answer may be very different from the one in your unconscious mind, a study has revealed.
Researchers found that deciding who we trust–especially with our money–may be influenced more by subconscious racial biases that many of us would be horrified to admit.
‘We strive as a culture to not let race bias be a significant factor in the way we choose to do things and on an individual level, we all assume that our beliefs reflect our actions, but we have to be aware of the fact that this won’t always be the case,’ Elizabeth Phelps, a psychologist at New York University and co-author of the study, told ABC News.
Researchers measured implied and expressed racial bias among 50 racially diverse participants using an Implicit Association Test (IAT) and questionnaires.
They then asked participants to rate the ‘trustworthiness’ of nearly 300 faces of people from many races (although the scores for blacks and whites were used in the analysis).
Participants then played a trust-based economic reward game.
Overall, if they showed an unconscious bias toward white people, they were more likely to say they trust whites more when asked–and more likely to risk more money.
The same bias showed up in the minority of participants that showed a bias towards black people.
‘Despite study after study showing that implicit bias exists, it’s still something that a lot of people don’t internalise within their own lives and behaviour,’ Leslie Hausmann, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, told ABC.
‘There’s a reluctance to admit that in our day-to-day lives, we have this and it matters,’ she added.
Although researchers said the study was not ‘overwhelming evidence for racism’ when they measured this kind of subconscious prejudice in doctors treating minorities, the doctors were shocked to discover their unconscious bias affected what medications they prescribed to different races.
‘Humans have always struggled with this: am I leading my daily life in such a way that my behaviour lines up with the values I have?’ said Mahzarin Banaji, a co-author and psychologist at Harvard University
‘Acknowledging this bias is part of bringing our behaviour in line with intentions.’