Beyond stereotypes: Prejudice as an important missing force explaining group disparities

Publikation: Beiträge in ZeitschriftenKommentare / Debatten / BerichteForschung


This article questions the widespread use of experimental social psychology to understand real-world group disparities. Standard experimental practice is to design studies in which participants make judgments of targets who vary only on the social categories to which they belong. This is typically done under simplified decision landscapes and with untrained decision-makers. For example, to understand racial disparities in police shootings, researchers show pictures of armed and unarmed Black and White men to undergraduates and have them press shoot and don't shoot buttons. Having demonstrated categorical bias under these conditions, researchers then use such findings to claim that real-world disparities are also due to decision-maker bias. I describe three flaws inherent in this approach, flaws which undermine any direct contribution of experimental studies to explaining group disparities. First, the decision landscapes used in experimental studies lack crucial components present in actual decisions (missing information flaw). Second, categorical effects in experimental studies are not interpreted in light of other effects on outcomes, including behavioral differences across groups (missing forces flaw). Third, there is no systematic testing of whether the contingencies required to produce experimental effects are present in real-world decisions (missing contingencies flaw). I apply this analysis to three research topics to illustrate the scope of the problem. I discuss how this research tradition has skewed our understanding of the human mind within and beyond the discipline and how results from experimental studies of bias are generally misunderstood. I conclude by arguing that the current research tradition should be abandoned.

ZeitschriftBehavioral and Brain Sciences
Anzahl der Seiten3
PublikationsstatusErschienen - 05.2022

Bibliographische Notiz

Funding Information:
Financial support. This work was supported by National Science Foundation grants BCS-1654731 to J.B.F. and BCS-2017245 to K.L.J.

Funding Information:
Financial support. This work was supported by the Fund for Scientific Research (F.R.S.–FNRS) under Grant No. 40000042.

Funding Information:
Financial support. This study is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grants No. 1230281 and 1756092.

Funding Information:
Financial support. The study is funded by the University of Helsinki’s 3-year research project “From cyborg origins of modern economics to its automated future. Towards a new philosophy of economics.”

Funding Information:
Financial support. The current project was financed by the resources of Polish National Science Centre (NCN) assigned by the decision no. 2017/ 26/D/HS6/01159 to MB. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Funding Information:
Financial support. This research was supported by an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellowship (FL180100094) awarded to Jolanda Jetten.

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements. This study was supported by NSF #BCS-1941440 to A.L. and a Faculty Fellowship from the Cornell Center for Social Sciences to N.L. The authors thank Katherine Weltzien, Paul Eastwick, Srilaxmi Pappoppula, Stephanie Goodwin, and Sylvia Liu for their help.

Funding Information:
Financial support. Development of these ideas was supported by sabbatical leave the University of Nevada, Las Vegas awarded to Jennifer Rennels.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2021 The Author(s).