The Legal Design of Equality Based on the Science of Ordinary Prejudice

Awarded Scholars:
Mahzarin Banaji, Harvard University
Project Date:
Oct 2003
Award Amount:
Project Programs:
Cultural Contact

In America today, overt acts of discrimination are frowned upon and often dubbed unlawful. Yet social psychology suggests that a powerful unconscious bias may influence the way in which we view and treat members of certain groups. Even absent flagrant discrimination, this implicit prejudice can undermine civil rights laws and efforts at promoting equal opportunity. To what extent does this unconscious bias exist? How accurate are existing measures of bias? Can we reduce this prejudice by bringing its existence to light? Mahzarin Banaji and Katherine Newman will help to develop this burgeoning area of research by establishing a fellowship cohort at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study to define and advance a research agenda on the psychology of prejudice that will make explicit connections to the law. With support from the Russell Sage Foundation, Banaji and Newman will convene four planning meetings. The first will address the importance of "intentionality" as a prerequisite for discrimination. The second will focus on racial profiling and the third on the possibility of using courtrooms and classrooms as research settings in order to obtain evidence on the prevalence of unconscious bias and highlight its importance in the legal world. The final meeting will be devoted to assessing progress and presenting feedback of the developing research.


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