Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Unconscious Bias: the Studies from Sociology

Steinpreis, Anders & Ritzke (1999) published a pioneering study on unconscious bias and gender. Panels composed of male and female university psychology professors were asked to evaluate application packages for either "Brian" or "Karen" and determine the candidate’s suitability as an assistant professor. The panels preferred 2:1 to hire "Brian" over "Karen," even though the application packages were identical except for the name. When evaluating a more experienced record (at the point of promotion to tenure), the panel members expressed reservations four times more often for "Karen" than for "Brian." So not only was unconscious bias operating, it got stronger with seniority. The study determined that unconscious bias would have a repeated negative effect on "Karen’s" career.

Correll, Benard & Paik (2007) extended the study to mothers. Panels were asked to evaluate application packages that were identical except for one line in the CV: "Active in the PTA." Evaluators rated mothers as less competent and committed to paid work than non-mothers. Prospective employers called mothers back about half as often. Mothers were less likely to be recommended for hire, promotion, and management. Mothers were offered lower starting salaries. When a similar study was done for fathers, however, the results were quite different. Fathers were not disadvantaged in the hiring process. They were seen as more committed to paid work, and were offered higher starting salaries.

More recently, Moss-Racusin et al. (2012) reported on a similar study which evaluated candidates for a lab manager position. The candidates were described as competent, but not stellar. On a scale of 1 to 7 (7 highest) professors gave John a score of 4.0 for competence, but only 3.3 for Jennifer. John was viewed more favorably as someone the evaluators would hire or mentor. John was also offered a higher average starting salary: $30,328 for John, but only $26,508 for Jennifer. The bias had no relation to the professors’ age, sex, teaching field, or tenure status. Biology professors, for example, whose classes can be >50% female, were just as biased as physicists. Women professors were just as biased as men. Junior professors were just as biased as seniors.

Steinpreis, Anders & Ritzke (1999) Sex Roles, 41, 509.
Correll, Benard & Paik (2007) American Journal of Sociology, 112 (5), 1297.
Moss-Racusin et al. (2012) Proc. National Academy of Sciences, 109 (41) 16474.

Previous posts on Unconscious Bias include

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