Unconscious Influences of Racial Attitudes: Awareness, Control, and Responsibility

 B. Keith Payne

Implicit measures of attitudes, especially those related to prejudice and stereotypes, have raised eyebrows within psychology and beyond. They also raise controversial questions: Do implicit tests show widespread unconscious prejudice? Does the idea of unconscious bias cause problems for legal and moral notions of responsibility for discrimination? In this talk I will review evidence that some varieties of unconscious cognition are well-supported by implicit tests but others are not. Unconscious attitudes have been over-emphasized but unconscious influences of attitudes have been underemphasized. I will review studies showing how racial attitudes influence judgments and decisions 1) without subjects’ apparent knowledge and 2) in direct contradiction of conscious intentions. The main reason for the common emphasis on unconscious attitudes is that people cannot be expected to control something if they do not know it exists. “Consciousness raising” is therefore often cited as a way to prevent unwanted biases. But unconscious influences present an even more direct challenge because a person may know they have a bias, consciously try to avoid it, and discriminate nonetheless.

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