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  • When we think about prejudice and bias,

  • we tend to think about stupid and evil people

  • doing stupid and evil things.

  • And this idea is nicely summarized

  • by the British critic William Hazlitt,

  • who wrote, "Prejudice is the child of ignorance."

  • I want to try to convince you here

  • that this is mistaken.

  • I want to try to convince you

  • that prejudice and bias

  • are natural, they're often rational,

  • and they're often even moral,

  • and I think that once we understand this,

  • we're in a better position to make sense of them

  • when they go wrong,

  • when they have horrible consequences,

  • and we're in a better position to know what to do

  • when this happens.

  • So, start with stereotypes. You look at me,

  • you know my name, you know certain facts about me,

  • and you could make certain judgments.

  • You could make guesses about my ethnicity,

  • my political affiliation, my religious beliefs.

  • And the thing is, these judgments tend to be accurate.

  • We're very good at this sort of thing.

  • And we're very good at this sort of thing

  • because our ability to stereotype people

  • is not some sort of arbitrary quirk of the mind,

  • but rather it's a specific instance

  • of a more general process,

  • which is that we have experience

  • with things and people in the world

  • that fall into categories,

  • and we can use our experience to make generalizations

  • about novel instances of these categories.

  • So everybody here has a lot of experience

  • with chairs and apples and dogs,

  • and based on this, you could see

  • unfamiliar examples and you could guess,

  • you could sit on the chair,

  • you could eat the apple, the dog will bark.

  • Now we might be wrong.

  • The chair could collapse if you sit on it,

  • the apple might be poison, the dog might not bark,

  • and in fact, this is my dog Tessie, who doesn't bark.

  • But for the most part, we're good at this.

  • For the most part, we make good guesses

  • both in the social domain and the non-social domain,

  • and if we weren't able to do so,

  • if we weren't able to make guesses about new instances that we encounter,

  • we wouldn't survive.

  • And in fact, Hazlitt later on in his wonderful essay

  • concedes this.

  • He writes, "Without the aid of prejudice and custom,

  • I should not be able to find my way my across the room;

  • nor know how to conduct myself in any circumstances,

  • nor what to feel in any relation of life."

  • Or take bias.

  • Now sometimes, we break the world up into

  • us versus them, into in-group versus out-group,

  • and sometimes when we do this,

  • we know we're doing something wrong,

  • and we're kind of ashamed of it.

  • But other times we're proud of it.

  • We openly acknowledge it.

  • And my favorite example of this

  • is a question that came from the audience

  • in a Republican debate prior to the last election.

  • (Video) Anderson Cooper: Gets to your question,

  • the question in the hall, on foreign aid? Yes, ma'am.

  • Woman: The American people are suffering

  • in our country right now.

  • Why do we continue to send foreign aid

  • to other countries

  • when we need all the help we can get for ourselves?

  • AC: Governor Perry, what about that?

  • (Applause)

  • Rick Perry: Absolutely, I think it's—

  • Paul Bloom: Each of the people onstage

  • agreed with the premise of her question,

  • which is as Americans, we should care more

  • about Americans than about other people.

  • And in fact, in general, people are often swayed

  • by feelings of solidarity, loyalty, pride, patriotism,

  • towards their country or towards their ethnic group.

  • Regardless of your politics, many people feel proud to be American,

  • and they favor Americans over other countries.

  • Residents of other countries feel the same about their nation,

  • and we feel the same about our ethnicities.

  • Now some of you may reject this.

  • Some of you may be so cosmopolitan

  • that you think that ethnicity and nationality

  • should hold no moral sway.

  • But even you sophisticates accept

  • that there should be some pull

  • towards the in-group in the domain of friends and family,

  • of people you're close to,

  • and so even you make a distinction

  • between us versus them.

  • Now, this distinction is natural enough

  • and often moral enough, but it can go awry,

  • and this was part of the research

  • of the great social psychologist Henri Tajfel.

  • Tajfel was born in Poland in 1919.

  • He left to go to university in France,

  • because as a Jew, he couldn't go to university in Poland,

  • and then he enlisted in the French military

  • in World War II.

  • He was captured and ended up

  • in a prisoner of war camp,

  • and it was a terrifying time for him,

  • because if it was discovered that he was a Jew,

  • he could have been moved to a concentration camp,

  • where he most likely would not have survived.

  • And in fact, when the war ended and he was released,

  • most of his friends and family were dead.

  • He got involved in different pursuits.

  • He helped out the war orphans.

  • But he had a long-lasting interest

  • in the science of prejudice,

  • and so when a prestigious British scholarship

  • on stereotypes opened up, he applied for it,

  • and he won it,

  • and then he began this amazing career.

  • And what started his career is an insight

  • that the way most people were thinking

  • about the Holocaust was wrong.

  • Many people, most people at the time,

  • viewed the Holocaust as sort of representing

  • some tragic flaw on the part of the Germans,

  • some genetic taint, some authoritarian personality.

  • And Tajfel rejected this.

  • Tajfel said what we see in the Holocaust

  • is just an exaggeration

  • of normal psychological processes

  • that exist in every one of us.

  • And to explore this, he did a series of classic studies

  • with British adolescents.

  • And in one of his studies, what he did was he asked

  • the British adolescents all sorts of questions,

  • and then based on their answers, he said,

  • "I've looked at your answers, and based on the answers,

  • I have determined that you are either" —

  • he told half of them

  • "a Kandinsky lover, you love the work of Kandinsky,

  • or a Klee lover, you love the work of Klee."

  • It was entirely bogus.

  • Their answers had nothing to do with Kandinsky or Klee.

  • They probably hadn't heard of the artists.

  • He just arbitrarily divided them up.

  • But what he found was, these categories mattered,

  • so when he later gave the subjects money,

  • they would prefer to give the money

  • to members of their own group

  • than members of the other group.

  • Worse, they were actually most interested

  • in establishing a difference

  • between their group and other groups,

  • so they would give up money for their own group

  • if by doing so they could give the other group even less.

  • This bias seems to show up very early.

  • So my colleague and wife, Karen Wynn, at Yale

  • has done a series of studies with babies

  • where she exposes babies to puppets,

  • and the puppets have certain food preferences.

  • So one of the puppets might like green beans.

  • The other puppet might like graham crackers.

  • They test the babies own food preferences,

  • and babies typically prefer the graham crackers.

  • But the question is, does this matter to babies

  • in how they treat the puppets? And it matters a lot.

  • They tend to prefer the puppet

  • who has the same food tastes that they have,

  • and worse, they actually prefer puppets

  • who punish the puppet with the different food taste.

  • (Laughter)

  • We see this sort of in-group, out-group psychology all the time.

  • We see it in political clashes

  • within groups with different ideologies.

  • We see it in its extreme in cases of war,

  • where the out-group isn't merely given less,

  • but dehumanized,

  • as in the Nazi perspective of Jews

  • as vermin or lice,

  • or the American perspective of Japanese as rats.

  • Stereotypes can also go awry.

  • So often they're rational and useful,

  • but sometimes they're irrational,

  • they give the wrong answers,

  • and other times

  • they lead to plainly immoral consequences.

  • And the case that's been most studied

  • is the case of race.

  • There was a fascinating study

  • prior to the 2008 election

  • where social psychologists looked at the extent

  • to which the candidates were associated with America,

  • as in an unconscious association with the American flag.

  • And in one of their studies they compared

  • Obama and McCain, and they found McCain

  • is thought of as more American than Obama,

  • and to some extent, people aren't that surprised by hearing that.

  • McCain is a celebrated war hero,

  • and many people would explicitly say

  • he has more of an American story than Obama.

  • But they also compared Obama

  • to British Prime Minister Tony Blair,

  • and they found that Blair was also thought of

  • as more American than Obama,

  • even though subjects explicitly understood

  • that he's not American at all.

  • But they were responding, of course,

  • to the color of his skin.

  • These stereotypes and biases

  • have real-world consequences,

  • both subtle and very important.

  • In one recent study, researchers

  • put ads on eBay for the sale of baseball cards.

  • Some of them were held by white hands,

  • others by black hands.

  • They were the same baseball cards.

  • The ones held by black hands

  • got substantially smaller bids

  • than the ones held by white hands.

  • In research done at Stanford,

  • psychologists explored the case of people

  • sentenced for the murder of a white person.

  • It turns out, holding everything else constant,

  • you are considerably more likely to be executed

  • if you look like the man on the right

  • than the man on the left,

  • and this is in large part because

  • the man on the right looks more prototypically black,

  • more prototypically African-American,

  • and this apparently influences people's decisions

  • over what to do about him.

  • So now that we know about this,

  • how do we combat it?

  • And there are different avenues.

  • One avenue is to appeal

  • to people's emotional responses,

  • to appeal to people's empathy,

  • and we often do that through stories.

  • So if you are a liberal parent

  • and you want to encourage your children

  • to believe in the merits of nontraditional families,

  • you might give them a book like this. ["Heather Has Two Mommies"]

  • If you are conservative and have a different attitude,

  • you might give them a book like this.

  • (Laughter) "Help! Mom! There Are Liberals under My Bed!"]