Implicit Social Cognition and Law

Kristin A. Lane, Jerry Kang, Mahzarin R. Banaji
2007 Annual Review of Law and Social Science  
TJo be as intelligent as we can is a moral obligation-that intelligence is one of the talents for the use ofwhich we shall be called to account-that if we haven't exhausted every opportunity to know whether what we are doing is right, it will be no excuse for us to say that we meant well. John Erskine, American Character and Other Essays, 1915 In the early years of the twentieth century, John Erskine, American educator and author, worried about a lack of faith in intelligence as a virtue, and
more » ... as a virtue, and contrasted it specifically with the elevated status accorded to goodness as a virtue. To be sure, Erskine was not using the term intelligence to mean a narrowly specified mental faculty of the sort that nineteenth, and even twentieth, century psychologists called intelligence. Rather he was referring to a broad set of competencies, skills, and knowledge. The research reviewed here is offered in an Erskinian spirit because, more now than ever, the mind sciences suggest unappealing truths about the nature of the brain and mind that originate from its bounded rationality and largely unconscious operation. Despite the commonly held belief that the opposite is true (i.e., that humans are savage rationalists and that consciousness is the default mental state), we have incontrovertible evidence that thoughts, feelings, and actions are shaped by factors residing largely outside conscious awareness, control, and intention (see Carney & Banaji 2007). Such evidence and their implications for human nature and human experience urge that we be newly intelligent about various matters of law. Experiments from social cognition-a field concerned with the content and mechanisms of beliefs and preferences about oneself, other social beings, and social groups-are this review's mainstay, with a focus on ordinary beliefs and preferences that operate without conscious intention, awareness, or control. We present the evidence first, urging readers to heed Erskine's message 428 Lane. Kong. Bona}; when the data reveal unappealing reflections of human behavior, including our own. THE SCIENCE Imagine sitting at a computer. Your job appears simple: As words such as happy and angry appear sequentially on the screen, indicate whether each is good (happy is good) or bad (angry is bad) by pressing marked keys on a keyboard. But more than the words appear on the screen. In fact, each word to be judged as good or bad is preceded by a black or white face (i.e., individuals with origins in Africa or Europe) that you see but do not respond to. You merely ignore the face and respond to the words. First presented in a psychology lab over a dozen years ago, this task represents the basic method of sequential or repetition priming, designed to measure indirectly less conscious racial attitudes (Fazio et al. 1995) . The computer records the time taken to offer the easy answer that happy represents a positive or good concept and that angry represents a negative or bad concept. To the psychologists who performed this study, the data of interest were the speed to respond (with some attention to accuracy of responses) to each word. Data were sorted into four separate types: Trials in which good words like happy were preceded by (a) a white face, (b) a black face; and trials in which bad words like angry were preceded by (c) a white face, (d) a black face. From the many studies that have used this procedure, we know that speed to judge that happy is good is noticeably faster when that word is preceded by the mere flash of a white (rather than a black) face. Likewise, it is mentally easier to respond that angry is bad when it is preceded by the brief presence of a black rather than white face. This differential ease of pairing white+good and black+bad is taken as an indirect measure of the strength of automatic relative preference for the two social groups. If the interest is in knowing a person's racial attitude, why use such an odd measure? Why not merely ask for reports of feelings toward black and white Americans? The simple answer is that decades of research on the nature of perception, attention, memory, and decision making demonstrate that indirect measures that bypass the mind's access to conscious cognition tell us something interesting about mental states and the behaviors they spawn. Specifically, the virtue ofsuch methods is that they tell us something different from self-reported survey-type responses. Moreover, they may potentially predict meaningful behaviors of the sort that are central to any system oflaw, e.g., behaviors that help and harm. For instance, the strength ofblack+bad and white+good associations in white subjects predicted the quality of their interaction with black experimenters (Fazio et al. 1995) . Participants with stronger antiblack bias on the computerized test were less likely to be friendly toward the black experimenter than those with more positive scores. Moreover, such participants were more likely to report that blacks, compared with whites, had greater responsibility for the civil unrest, riots, and violence in Los Angeles following the 1992 acquittal of police officers in the case involving Rodney King. Interestingly, the same participants' selfreported attitudes toward the groups on a traditional survey were uncorrelated with their friendliness; in other words, these traditionally measured expressions of attitude were not as predictive of behavior. This experiment set the stage for the subsequent explosion ofwork on implicit social cognition-the main results of Fazio and colleagues (1995) would be replicated many times with differing measures of implicit attitudes and stereotypes. This body of research captured the essence of a new generation of discoveries about automatic, nonconscious, or implicit preferences and beliefs, primarily that they (a) are both pervasive (large numbers of individuals show evidence of them) and large, statistically speaking; (b) diverge from the consciously reported preferences and beliefs of the same individual; (c) appear to predict behavior, even consequential behavior such as doctors' treatment
doi:10.1146/annurev.lawsocsci.3.081806.112748 fatcat:c446k65umfhtjgkkwmrbwxtcve