Uncovering and Punishing Unconscious Bias

Uncovering and Punishing Unconscious Bias (paper here)

Philip E. Tetlock, Gregory Mitchell and L. Jason Anastasopoulos

Recent technological advances in psychology hold out the promise of detecting unconscious biases before they cause harm. Advocates of the technology may fail to appreciate its many potential uses and costs. We present experimental results demonstrating the ideological filters through which this new technology and its potential uses are evaluated: (1) liberals supported use of the technology to detect unconscious racism among company managers but not to detect unconscious anti-Americanism among applicants to security jobs; conservatives showed the reverse pattern; (2) few participants of any ideology supported punishing individuals for unconscious bias, but liberals and conservatives supported punishing organizations that failed to use the technology to root out each group’s prioritized societal harm; (3) concerns about scientific bias and Type I and II errors mediated perceptions of misuse potential and willingness to punish organizations; (4) political “extremists” were more likely than “moderates” to reconsider support for the technology when confronted with a less palatable alternative use they had not considered.




1 Comment

  • Hugo Mercier
    Hugo Mercier 8 August 2011 (23:07)

    Thanks a lot for the paper! A couple of random comments: Could people (most people) be led to make exceptions to the principle that thoughts can’t be punished? What about thoughts of pedophiliac acts for instance? If not punished, then at least people might like some prevention. It’s also possible that to remain consistent, they would deny the possibility that such thoughts can be kept unconscious. Also, you say that people are reluctant to punish others simply because of “thought crimes,” but your experiments only address unconscious thought. Do you think that conscious thought would also fall outside the range of punishable offenses for most people? If I’m not mistaken, the Christian church has capitalized quite a bit on the idea that people could be punished — at least they should feel guilty — for such “thought crimes.”