Revealing Your Unconscious: Part 1 - Transcripts

March 13, 2023

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Would you consider yourself to be prejudiced against people who are different from you? Most of us would say no. But in the late 1990s, researchers created a test to measure biases that may be hidden from our conscious minds. Millions of people have taken it since, and not everyone likes what they've discovered. This week, we launch a two-part look at implicit bias with psychologist Mahzarin Banaji. We ask how is it that we can hold negative stereotypes — without being aware of them.


This is Hidden Brain. I'm Shankar Vedanta. One of the most enduring puzzles of the human brain is that when we look inward, we see what feels like a complete picture. We perceive our feelings, remember memories, and make plans for the future. Over the last several decades, however, psychologists have shown that significant portions of our minds are in fact hidden from us. They operate outside or below the spotlight of conscious awareness. Here's a simple way to demonstrate this. I'll ask you a question and you give me an answer. Here's the question. Fill in the last word in this sentence. The Fourth of July is celebrated as Independence Day in the United States of blank. Okay, you think, that was too easy.

It's the United States of America, of course. But take a moment and reflect on what just happened inside your brain. You heard my question, which is to say, the sound waves carrying my voice entered your ear. The Fourth of July were converted into electrical signals and sent to your brain. Neural networks transformed these signals into words, into a sentence, decoded what it meant, and figured out the meaning of the question. Systems in your brain that produce reasoning and memory retrieved the answer to the question. This answer was then routed to centers in the brain that produce language. Other brain systems shaped how your muscles pushed air through your lungs and pursed your lips,

and you came up with America.

The Fourth of July meant all those things had to happen for you to come up with the answer. But notice how little you were aware of these many extraordinary feats of neural wizardry. The idea that much of our mental lives happens outside of conscious awareness is a key theme across the show. In nearly every hidden brain story, we explore what happens beneath the surface of awareness in the realm of the unconscious, in the kingdom of the implicit. Today on the show, we launch a two-part miniseries. It's the story of a researcher who has spent a lifetime asking how hidden mental forces shape how we think and what we do. It's also the story of culture, how the thoughts and feelings and actions of millions come together to create the foundation and the fissures of our society. The strange interplay between our minds and the cultures in which we live, this week on Hidden Brain. Imagine, if you will, a little girl. It's late at night and she is standing at a second floor balcony at her home in Southern India. She is doing something strange.

She is leaning into the air, her mouth agape. I remember a few really, really bad attacks where I would just try to bite into the air

to see if I could swallow slightly more air. This is one of Mazarine Banaji's earliest memories of the asthma attacks that tormented her as a child.

She remembers also the label that came with her struggles. I remember being called a sick child. Our sick child needs X or our sick child needs that. And so it was very much a part of my identity that I was a sick child. And what that really meant was that I had been born prematurely. I had developed a very severe asthma as a toddler and had a bunch of other autoimmune issues. So yeah, this inability to breathe got me very close to death a few times. And of course the recovery from that is itself exhausting. And more than me, I think if you talked to my siblings, they will tell you the trauma that they experienced because their beds were in the same bedroom. And many times I would leave that room

just so they wouldn't have to hear me. Mazarine's parents were devoted to her but didn't have much faith in science and doctors. Instead, they sought out healers

from India's many religious faith traditions. So the one I'll tell you about is a case where somebody was gonna come to town and set up on the exhibition grounds in Hyderabad a cure for many things, including asthma. It required that we leave home at four in the morning, that we get there early, that we then buy an earthenware pot that had water in it and a little fish swimming in it. We would stand in line for hours. And finally we would get to the man who would take the fish, stick something into the fish's mouth from a bowl that he had like some flour or something and then open my mouth and have me swallow this live fish. All I could think of was my mother and father loved me and they're trying to do something good for me and I'm gonna go and swallow the fish

and then I'm gonna be fine. When that didn't work,

Mazarine's mother turned to other healers. To Muslim Babas who would have you almost sort of stripped down to your underwear

and then kind of whack you with peacock feathers.

There were Baptist preachers. They would put their hands on my head and then they would each put their hands on each other's shoulders and then they would pray. And then they would, you know, sort of speak loudly and call for Jesus, and I would be the object of their focus.

Sometimes Mazarin would ask herself how these practitioners were so confident about their measures. How did they know their techniques worked?

As her doubts grew, she started running little tests into the efficacy of various interventions. My mother found a little diary of mine from about that time, from the time I was nine years old, in which I had started to write down how poorly I was feeling in terms of my breathing, and whether I had prayed a lot or a little. And I think I was trying to create a correlational table, so when I didn't feel very good, sometimes I would pray a little, sometimes I would pray a lot, sometimes I wouldn't pray at all, and what I wanted to see is if that variation was doing anything at all. And so quite early, by the time I was 9 or 10, I remember starting to say I didn't want to go

to these events. But Mazarin's mother insisted they keep trying. The two of them quarreled.

A woman showed up from Boston. Jane Shelton, I remember her very well. She was a white American woman who had come from Boston to preach Christian science in India. And my mother converted, which meant don't see a doctor. I remember being terrified of Jane Shelton because she would come pick us up every Sunday morning to take us to Sunday school because in that phase we were

Christian scientists. Mazarin's schooling suffered, as did her emotional well-being. The less time she

spent in school, the more she came to feel like she didn't belong at school. I just didn't have friends. I was intensely lonely. I remember trying to just join a group of girls in the big school that I was attending. And I remember many times that a group of girls would just sort of tighten their circle to physically remove me from it. And they were just being girls. Mean girls, maybe, but just girls. But its impact on me was quite traumatic. Even at home, I couldn't go outside. So, you know, if I played in the dust with the other kids or exerted myself, that would bring on, you know, an asthma attack. And so as a result, I was forbidden from stepping outdoors.

Like many children with limitations, Mazarin found other outlets. Reading came early, and she devoured books in her home, including books she didn't understand.

She couldn't play with other kids, but she could watch them. I became an observer of human behavior in a way in which I could never have had I been a participant. So I had a literal perch on the second floor balcony, and I had this whole panorama of things going on. You know, kids would come back from school, and then they would go out and do their play. And I watched them. When events occurred, a fight or something happened, people had very different reactions to it. And so I think I noticed both sort of the general principles of human behavior. Not that I was thinking this at all, but also just the variability with which people were responding to the very same thing. When I think back, I do feel that I was almost put in the place of an

observer because of that being a sick child. Finally, when she was 16, Mazarin put her foot

down with her mother and won. And I remember sort of our big standoff when I was 16, and I said, I want to go to see Dr. Menon, who was an allopathic medicine practitioner, a regular doctor. And Dr. Menon was just amazing. He sat me down and he made me a little booklet in which he said, this is what you have. We can control this. You don't have to suffer. Use this inhaler. This is nothing more than a pair of sunglasses in the sun or a raincoat in the rain. And I will never forget that. And I could just feel this feeling of relief that what he was saying and what I was experiencing that this was right, that in some way this was not something that you can cure, that it is something

that you control and that there are ways to control it. Yeah. But even if you couldn't cure it,

the fact that it is actually amenable to change, it must have been hugely heartening. It was, but my mother was not happy. So what I found amazing is that the one thing that gave me incredible hope, my mother just almost felt let down by that because to her, in her system, something as simple as that would just control my asthma. She was on the path for a cure and

this would never give me a cure. In time, every one of these experiences would come to shape Mazarin's life in important ways. She was to become a professional observer of people. She would come to reject airy theories in favor of measurement and evidence. Her insights would prove influential to countless people around the world. There was one more early experience that proved transformative in setting Mazarin on this path. It happened when she was a university student in India. She was on a train headed home and when the train rolled to a stop, she got off to explore the station. She found a stall selling used books. She wanted a hefty read that would keep her occupied the rest of the journey.

I saw five fat read books said handbook of social psychology. And the guy said, you know, you can have them for the equivalent, I think of a dollar. I think at the time, a dollar was about 30 rupees. And I think I bargained him down further and found myself carrying five fat books into this train. And on my the rest of my ride home, I tried to read the first volume. There were lots of chapters on theory, this and theory that that made no sense to me. But there was a chapter called research methods in social psychology. It was written by a man called Elliot Aronson. And what Elliot had done in this chapter is to talk about the process of doing research. The examples he used were all of these famous experiments on dissonance. And I was just, I think my jaw, my jaw was just dropping after I heard each of those experiments. And I couldn't believe that there were people somewhere in the world who were actually doing experiments, which I had never heard or thought was possible.

You can do experiments on particles, you can do experiments on cells, but experiments on social behavior, that had never really even occurred to me as a possibility. And I think there are very few occasions, I don't even know of any other occasion in my life, where I felt with some

certainty, I must do this. You're listening to Hidden Brain. I'm Shankar Vedanta. This is Hidden Brain. I'm Shankar Vedanta. Mazarin Banaji spent a great deal of her childhood with a label attached to her. Sick child. Cut off from school and other children, she became an observer of human nature. A chance encounter with a set of used books that she found at a train station in India introduced her to the field of social psychology. Mazarin eventually moved to Ohio State University to work on a PhD. After that, she started teaching at Yale. She focused on the subject of human memory and all the different ways in which memory is shaped by the social world.

I had studied memory for emotional information. Why is negative stuff remembered better than positive? So it had always been an interest in memory. It was a focus, I loved that study, of memory. And it was towards the end of graduate school and the beginning of my time at Yale, that a revolution was happening in the field of human memory. And people were beginning to talk about a second kind of memory that we had not paid attention to, for which we now had evidence. And

it was called implicit memory. Scientists had always measured human memory by giving people lists of things to remember and then measuring how well they could recall things from that list. They studied how memory decayed over time. Our recall of things was better right after we had learned something compared to a few weeks later. When researchers talked about memory, this is what they meant. But then new data came in involving people suffering from amnesia, often as the result

of some trauma. So they would remember the past really well, but from the moment of the trauma,

new memories could not get consolidated in them. If you gave these people a list of words and ask

them to recall it, they would fail at the task. So you could tell an amnesic patient, you know, what was that list of words I taught you earlier? And they would look at you funnily because they didn't even remember you or the list of words, let alone what the words were. But if you gave them an indirect measure, if you said, okay, here's a letter M, complete this word with the first word that comes to your mind, that's a five letter word starting with M. And they would say, oh, motel. And lo and behold, motel had been on the list before. In other words, these papers patients had stored this information, but they didn't have the usual kind of access to it. And so this implicit form of memory was proving to be incredibly interesting. And we realized we had not thought about it or come up with indirect ways of measuring it because we weren't

aware that there was this second kind of memory. At a journal club where scientists shared and talked about interesting papers, Mazarin presented some research on implicit memory by the psychologist

Larry Jacobi. The title of it was something like becoming famous overnight. And what Larry Jacobi, who I think is one of the most brilliant experimentalists in psychology had done was to show that these effects we were seeing in amnesic patients were not limited to them, that ordinary people like us also had the same form of implicit memory. But it's very hard

to obviously pull it out in us because we also have conscious recollection. Put another way, if both conscious and implicit memory help us to recall something, we notice only the role of conscious memory because implicit memory is hidden from us. How do you detect implicit memory when conscious memory, if you will, stands in front of it? That's why Larry Jacobi had come up with a

clever experiment. He's done this in many different brilliant ways. But this sort of fun experiment, I would say, is one in which he took names out of a phone book. So in those days we had fat phone books and he went to the phone book and he just pulled out a hundred names of people from the phone book. And he gave them to people to read in his experiment. So they may read a name like Sebastian Weizdorf. It happens to be a name from a phone book. Then those same subjects go away and they're invited back into the lab 24 or 48 hours later. And when they reappear, Jacobi would present them with a new list of words that contained all the old names they had seen before, like Sebastian Weizdorf, but also new names from the phone book, names they had not seen a day or two earlier, and a bunch of famous names thrown in there. Names of past presidents, names of actors, names of athletes. So you might, you know, see a name like Ronald Reagan in there, or you might see Wayne Gretzky, the hockey player, something. And the subjects, oh, and these are all mixed up.

So you now have three kinds of names, old names that are not famous, new names that are not

famous, and then some famous names. Larry Jacobi asked volunteers to do something very simple.

Look at the list of names and guess which ones were famous people. And what Larry reported in this paper is a very interesting result. Okay, famous names will get identified as famous if you know them fine, but we're not really interested in them. What we're interested in are the non-famous names on which people make an error, a particular kind of error that we would call a false alarm. And that is which names are the non-famous names that the subject thought were famous, even though they're not. And his theory said, if you have implicit memory for the list you saw on day one, Sebastian Weizdorf lingers in your mind, there is some perceptual fluency that you feel for the name. You see it and it looks kind of familiar to you. But you, the subject, you don't know why. Is this name looking familiar to me because I saw it the day before? Or, you know, is this a

movie star that, you know, whose name is familiar because I've seen it on a screen? Larry Jacobi found volunteers mistakenly thought names they had seen the previous day were famous people. What was happening was that even though they did not consciously remember the names they had seen from the phone book, they retained implicit memory of those names. Confronted a second time with these names, the names now look familiar. Since we tend to associate familiar

names with famous people, the volunteers thought these names belong to famous people. You are likely to make a mistake and identify Sebastian Weizdorf as famous, wrongly. So that's why he called him becoming famous overnight. And that was the paper and I presented that paper. And it just stayed with me long enough that I thought, you know, by the way, I was I think I was in my second or third year as an assistant professor by this time. And I'm making no progress on anything. I'm not I don't have a, you know, I'm doing stuff, but it wasn't like there was anything I was identified with that was going anywhere. So I thought, you know, obviously, I'm interested in memory. Implicit memory is clearly interesting. Let me start by replicating

the Jacobi experiment. Mazuri noticed that all the names that Larry Jacobi had used in his experiment were male names. In her replication of the experiment, she included female names from the phone book. She fully expected to find exactly what the senior psychologist had found.

And so the first study results came back and showed Jacobi's result, but it was restricted to male names. Male names did become famous overnight. Sebastian Weizdorf was more likely to be identified as famous. But in my case, Stephanie Weizdorf was not.

Why would male names from the phone book that the volunteers had seen a day or two earlier be seen as famous, but female names from the very same phone book not be seen this way? Mazuri was not interested in studying questions of bias, but the data told her that bias was at work. Volunteers were using the filter of gender to reach their conclusions.

I started to quiz people after every experiment after the first one. So in experiments two, three, four, five, I would ask every single subject at the end of the study, I would say, what rule did you use to make your decision? And they would tell me. And if they didn't say anything about gender, I would say, did you use gender in making your decision? And they would look horrified and say, of course, not. And yet in their data, it was clear that they had they had. So for me, that's when the light bulb went off. And I thought, if this is true,

if people are doing this without any awareness, it's got to be pretty pervasive. If volunteers were misapplying the filter of gender in a lab experiment involving names in a phone book, where else might they misapply the same filter? Could it shape how managers made hiring decisions? In medical treatment? In classrooms? Mazarin had only to look around, of course, to see conscious sexism. TV shows and books

and political debates were filled with open misogyny. Let me just say, first of all, that I almost resent Vice President Bush, your patronizing

attitude that you have to teach me about foreign policy. What's my boy doing with the Barbie?

I've got to determine what your motivation might be. Are you a scorned woman? You don't consider age in the face of cleavage. This occurs on a molecular level. You can't control it. But what had happened in this experiment was more interesting and more troubling. It showed that people could be biased without any awareness of being biased. In many ways, this was worse than garden variety sexism because the people who had the bias felt they were unbiased. If implicit biases are hidden outside of conscious view, how do you reliably reveal their presence? Doctors run blood tests to measure cholesterol levels. Mazarin wanted a test that could similarly

measure implicit bias. She and her colleagues began to develop ideas. So for the next two years, I know that the Jacobi procedure is fine, but you need something

where fame is not the main decision. You have to get at something closer to the association. Mazarin presented volunteers with words like chairman or chairwoman. She found that saying chairman subsequently made masculine concepts more accessible to volunteers and using chairwoman made feminine concepts more accessible. In many ways, this is intuitively obvious. When we hear the word salt, it's easier to bring to mind the word pepper rather than the word dinosaur. We've seen salt and pepper linked together so many times that we have formed an implicit association between the two words. What Mazarin and her colleagues were finding was that by measuring the speed of people's associations, they could peer into people's minds and tell which associations were strong and which ones were weak. In 1994, Mazarin's PhD advisor, Tony Greenwald, now at the University of Washington and a

collaborator on the Implicit Bias Research, sent her an email. Tony's very terse. He writes brief emails. I got an email with a little program, and

all he said is, try this. Tony had come up with a list of insects and a list of flowers. Words from these lists

popped up on Mazarin's screen. Insect and flower. And if an insect pops up, I should say left. And if a flower pops up, I should say right. And I just use the two keys, E for left, I for right. And it's very simple. If I see rose, I say it's a flower and I press the left key. If it says bug or

something like that, I say right key. Mazarin blazed through the test. It was ridiculously easy. Next, Tony had her classify a set of

words as positive or negative words. This is very easy. How hard is it to say a word like peace is a good word? How hard is it to say that a word like nasty is a bad word? You can do that, too. You can use two keys to say which one's good and which one's bad.

A third grader would have no trouble with the task. The next part of the test asked Mazarin to group together all the flower words with all the positive words. If she saw either rose or peace, she had to press the left key. If she saw either bug or nasty, she had to press the right key. This was also really easy to do. Then came the twist. Tony asked Mazarin to group all the flowers with negative words on one side and the insects with positive words on the other. Effectively, the test was asking Mazarin to link together words like bug and cockroach with words like peace and joy. Since most of us don't associate

insects with positive concepts, it took Mazarin more effort to do this part of the test. You realize that it is not at all easy to do. You're making mistakes. You're taking long to do it, and you feel the failure of your brain. You're feeling it in real time

that your brain has just stopped working. As she did the test, Mazarin already understood why this last section was hard. Implicitly, hidden away from conscious view, we have a set of associations with flowers and insects. Our associations with flowers are generally positive. Our associations with insects are generally negative. There was a second test Tony had included in his email. There were positive and negative words as before, but now instead of flowers and insects, Tony gave Mazarin a list of names traditionally used by black people and a list of names traditionally used by white people. He asked her to pair white names with positive words and black names with negative words. Mazarin found this was as easy to do as pairing flowers with positive words and insects with negative words. Then Tony flipped the groupings. He asked Mazarin to pair white names with negative words and black names with positive

words. I've already done the insect flower task so I know that aha, I see what we're doing here. But I'm not prepared at all for the pit in my stomach that I'm going to experience when I come to the moment when I have to associate white with bad and black with good. How shall I say this? I knew what this test was trying to do. I've done dozens of these kinds of things before, but there was something about that moment that I say even today it was the single most transformative moment in my life. The test was telling me that my mind could not associate black with good as easily as it could associate white with good. That is not my view of myself. That is to say I believe that if I choose to, I can associate anything with good and with bad. It's up to me to decide what I want to do. This test took away all of that. This test said you can try to do that, but I'm going to show you you really cannot do certain things as easily as you can do others and as a psychologist I knew that that ease meant something more than just ease of doing the test.

It meant that my brain had received the thumbprint of the culture so deeply that I had no control over this. A feeling was a feeling of dread, I would say. A feeling of having had the rug pulled out from under you. This is like a moral death that you're experiencing because everything you believed is being taken apart in front of your very eyes and you are left with nothing. You have to start from scratch to now rebuild a view of yourself that will forever be a

different view of yourself. It was a painful moment, but it was also the beginning of a profound turning point in Mazarin's career. She and Tony Greenwald would take this insight about our minds and develop a now famous test. It's one that millions of people around the world have taken to try to better understand the workings of their minds. When we come back, Mazarin's work receives the kind of attention most scientists never dream of.

But not all of it is positive. You know, enough of this seeking every opportunity to demean law enforcement broadly by making

the accusation of implicit bias every time tragedy. You're listening to Hidden Brain. I'm Shankar Vedantu. This is Hidden Brain. I'm Shankar Vedantu. After Tony Greenwald sent Mazarin Banaji the test that revealed her own hidden biases to her, they and other researchers took this insight and developed something called the Implicit Association Test. It measures our hidden associations. Tests like the one Mazarin took have now been used by millions of people. They offer a window into the minds of Americans and not everyone likes what they see. After Mazarin Banaji moved to Harvard University, the school began hosting a number of her tests at a website, The tests are free and can be taken by anyone with a computer and an internet connection. People around the world have taken tests that measure their attitudes about race and sexual orientation.

Other tests measure implicit attitudes about the poor, the elderly, and people who are overweight. Almost from the start, the Implicit Association Test, or IAT, produced strong reactions. Many people responded with shame, guilt, and anger. Others hailed the test, saying it could explain vast disparities we see in societies today, including in communities of people who pride themselves on being deeply egalitarian.

In the early days of the test, a physician named Alexander Green reached out to Mazarin. Alex, who worked in a medical school, was interested in this question of whether implicit bias might be playing a role in the decisions of medical professionals, because in his experience, medical professionals are among the most egalitarian people we know, he said. This is a profession that takes an oath. And yet, if you look at the data, we now have not dozens, but hundreds of studies that have been done looking at many kinds of disparities, but especially at racial disparities in healthcare. And so he was puzzled by this. How is it possible that these people who try so hard every day to overcome the challenges that are being posed by racism are in their own behavior, showing certain systematic effects that mimic the very thing that they would criticize? And then maybe, you know, it is not conscious bias, but that there is a certain kind of

bias that we can now measure that may be playing a role. Mazarin and Alex gave doctors in Atlanta and Boston a case study, a medical scenario. It described a Mr. Thompson who comes into the hospital complaining of chest pains. The case study gave a medical history of Mr. Thompson and asked the physicians if they would prescribe clot-busting treatments that could prevent a stroke. All the physicians saw the same case study, except that some were told Mr. Thompson was

white and others were told he was black. Everything is the same, it's just that the person is either black or white, but the data that you see are the same. And the medical professional is asked, would you prescribe thrombolysis, which I believe

is prescribed in some cases that present with these symptoms. The researchers found a small racial disparity. Physicians were slightly less likely to recommend the clot-busting treatments to the black Mr. Thompson compared to the white Mr. Thompson. But when the researchers had the physicians take an implicit association test, or IAT,

a curious pattern emerged. When you add in the IAT, what you saw is that doctors who showed higher anti-black bias

on the IAT were also the ones who decided to withhold thrombolysis to black patients. Soon, new data was coming in on multiple fronts. One question Mazarin had was when these biases get into people's heads. No one is born with these biases, so are they learned in early childhood, in adolescence, in adulthood? After Mazarin moved to Harvard, she started running experiments comparing six-year-olds,

ten-year-olds, and adults. And I assumed at that time that the data would show that five and six-year-olds would show no bias at all because their experience in the world, on race in particular, these are kids in Cambridge, this is not a city with a large black population, that these are kids who would show no bias at all, it should be zero. And then maybe ten-year-olds have picked up a little bit, and then to compare those two, we picked adults at the same time. So we could get data from three groups, six-year-olds, ten-year-olds, and adults. And we also asked them questions, of course.

If you have two people in front of you, which one do you prefer? The researchers showed volunteers two photos.

One showed a black person, the other showed a white person. So that was the explicit measure, the one where you could exert conscious awareness

if you wanted to, and say whatever you feel is right for you. On the explicit measure, adults told Masrin they had no preferences at all. They liked the black face and white face equally. This is in line with other reports that find very few Americans admit to having racial

biases of any kind. Ten-year-olds are showing a little bit of bias favoring their own group. So when asked, they would say, you know, they would try to pick equally, but they tended to prefer white if they were white. And in this study, it was only white kids, the first one. Six-year-olds were just honest. They would just pick the white kid much of the time, 80% of the time they were saying. So what we saw was, in fact, quite clear differences in explicit with the greatest bias being expressed by six-year-olds, slightly less bias expressed by 10-year-olds, and adults being completely

neutral. Then the researchers turned to the IAT data. Would there be a difference between six-year-olds, 10-year-olds, and adults when it came to their implicit associations on race? Masrin thought she would find the youngest children had no implicit bias, the older children would have some, and that adults would have a lot of it. If implicit associations are picked up by being exposed to people from different walks

of life, wouldn't this be what you'd expect? And we did not see that. The data showed, you know, almost millisecond-level similarity in the data of six-year-olds, 10-year-olds, and adults. In other words, the six-year-olds in white culture looked like white adults. No different from them. It changed my view about what it is that the IAT might be tapping into. And it told me that what this test is tapping into is something that emerges early in life, and whether you have seen any people and know any people in those groups or not, you are

going to show this bias. The test revolutionized the study of bias seemingly overnight. Within a few short years, companies were mandating employees take Masrin's tests to help employees identify their implicit biases. A vast training industry popped up, offering to help people rid themselves of their unconscious biases. Social justice advocates seized on the tests. Here finally was a way to explain vast disparities they were seeing in classrooms, in health care settings, and in the criminal justice system. But even as some people were excited by the potential of the test to transform social policy, others were increasingly upset. Some researchers felt that claims about the IAT and what it could tell us were going too far too fast. And one study started to show that conservative parts of the United States had larger implicit biases than liberal places. The tests exploded into political controversy. The pinnacle of the controversy came in 2016 when presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said she thought implicit biases were widespread across society.

This was during a debate with Republican candidate Donald Trump. Too many of us in our great country jump to conclusions about each other. And therefore I think we need all of us to be asking hard questions about, you know, why am I feeling this way? But when it comes to policing, since it can have literally fatal consequences, I have said in my first budget we would put money into that budget to help us deal with implicit

bias by retraining a lot of our police officers. A few days later, during the vice presidential debate, Republican Mike Pence brought up the topic during his debate with Democratic Senator Tim Kaine.

He said law enforcement personnel were feeling vilified by accusations of implicit bias. What we ought to do is we ought to stop seizing on these moments of tragedy. We ought to assure the public that we'll have a full and complete and transparent investigation whenever there's a loss of life because of police action. But Senator, please, you know, enough of this seeking every opportunity to demean law enforcement

broadly by making the accusation of implicit bias every time tragedy. So on the one hand, Mazarin, it's kind of extraordinary that work done in an academic lab is getting debated in a presidential and vice presidential debate. That is kind of extraordinary. And I think most researchers would never dream of something like that happening. But what did you hear when Mike Pence said these words under the national spotlight?

I remember where I was when I heard it. It's a flashbulb memory. I was in my home with all my graduate students. Our jaws just dropped. They're talking about our little work. Like we're, I would say that I have never gotten accustomed to this. This is now, this happens so frequently, I'll be on an airplane and I'll look at the little TV screen. And the first thing I'll see is somebody saying something about implicit bias and I'll think, is this a candid camera experiment being done to see what I'm going to do? So it is everywhere. It has now become commonplace. It has gotten into enough places that there's a play, there are entire art exhibits, there's a poem, there's a musical score that's been written. So there's a whole bunch of stuff in the arts that's been happening on this concept.

Every organization worth its name has some program devoted to teaching people about this. So what we're seeing here is an enormous attraction to a way of understanding something that had been impossible to even identify previously. And I think overall, I would say the reaction is teach it to us so we can do better. We are ready. We're not scared. And it depends on how you do it. I think there's a ton of really terrible diversity training. I would challenge the teaching of much of what is taught in the name of implicit bias. But let's go back to the debate. Hillary Clinton actually had an answer to that question and she said it's in all of us and as a result, even in the police, and we should do something about it. That's the rational answer because that's what the research shows. Not everybody has every bias in exactly the same amount.

But if you take four or five tests, the overwhelming likelihood is that 100% of people will show a bias on some test or the other. So if I were Mike Pence, I would have said, isn't it remarkable that we find that there are not just a few bad apples here or there? It actually in some way should be relieving to find out that we are all in this together, that this is a problem that sits at the feet of the nation. To me what will be much more frightening is to point fingers, to say there is that person there who is biased and this person here who is not. If you think you have five bad police officers and a force of 200 and your job is to ferret them out, your bar is not very high and you should be able to get rid of those five and be fine. But you are not. And the reason you are not is because not only is it invisible and in each mind, it

is now in the organization and it is in the system. In part two of the story, we will unpack what it means for the tentacles of implicit bias to spread through an organization or a country. Hidden Brain is produced by Hidden Brain Media. Our audio production team includes Bridget McCarthy, Annie Murphy-Paul, Kristen Wong, Laura Correll, Ryan Katz, Autumn Barnes, and Andrew Chadwick. Tara Boyle is our executive producer. I'm Hidden Brain's executive editor. No thanks on this episode to sound designer Nick Woodbury. Our unsung hero today comes from our sister podcast, My Unsung Hero. It comes from listener Majid Haji.

In 2004, Majid moved his family from Iran to Washington state.

And for many reasons, most important things, money, I had to find a job right away. While walking through town one day, his son pointed out a poster that advertised a job

for a bus driver. And my son told me that they want driver. You are a good driver. Let's go for that. We called that number and we went to the interview, as a matter of fact, with my son, because my English level wasn't that good for communicating with people that day. We went to the interview, they said, okay, we're looking for the driver. As long as you pass the training session, which was one month long, and pass the driving

test, you are okay. Majid went to the training every day and passed all the written portions. At the end of the month came the most important exam, the actual driving test.

I already was under lots of pressure in very high anxiety level, because after job was not just job for me, it was a kind of a very important point to bring money so fast to our saving bank, which was going down very fast, faster than I thought. And then I'm getting more anxious and anxious, but the peak of this anxiety comes when I saw the guy was responsible for testing us, showed up in a huge motorbike, a Harley Davidson with the leather jacket, with the tattooed faces up to neck, and with the chain and everything, just cliche biker, which I knew from Hollywood movies. And I said, oh my God, I am doomed. But the guy parked and come to us and they say, okay, get in the bus, five, at each time, five or six people at a time. Person by person get on the driver's seat and he start talking to them and say something which I didn't understand, are they talking about last night movie or is there driving related things? I didn't know. And I say, okay, my God, what can I do? Why I am shaking? Why I am, all my blood in my body actually rushed through my head.

And the guy looked at me and said, okay, let's back to the base. The tester drove the bus back to the terminal and asked everyone to get off, except for

Majid. Oh my God, he want to test me differently because it's nobody started from the base. Everybody started outside. I got behind the wheel, maybe I was shaking, maybe I couldn't see, I don't remember. But he, at this point, he came beside me two feet at my right side and I say, look at me. I look at him and he said, just drive. That's the two words I never forgot, just drive. And somehow I saw the light, everything was shiny after that. He continued to using very small words like go right, go left, back in here, stop here. We have a lift we have to operate too. He even asked me to operate the lift. He was no short on procedure.

He was so pro. And then we back to the base. He got on and the first paper he was signed, it was my paper say, Majid passed and now let's see who else passes. He's my unsigned hero for two reasons. One, immediate effect on my family and I, financial, with getting the job, having paycheck

in two weeks and having hope to go through with our life in our new country. The second reason came to Majid later. He realized that he had stereotyped the tester because of his appearance. The kindness he received showed him the importance of not prejudging people.

I find out whatever I think about people could be wrong and it was wrong. He's my unsung hero.

For that reason, I can see people differently. Listener Majid Haji. Majid lives in Seattle, Washington with his wife. He enjoys traveling the country and spending time with his kids. If you found this episode thought-provoking, please do your part to keep us thriving. Help us build more shows for new listeners. Visit, again, that's I'm Shankar Vedantam, see you soon.