Solutions Statement

We believe in solutions. The problem of discrimination is a complicated one—operating on both structural and individual levels—but failure and tragedy are not inevitable. If people believe the problem of discrimination is intractable, they are less likely to engage in action. We are dedicated to raising awareness of and applying empirically tested solutions to real-world challenges.

Research shows that individuals concerned about their own implicit biases can take steps to “break the prejudice habit” by following a set of practices that taken together have been shown by researchers to reduce bias (Devine et al, 2012).

These include:

  • Recognizing when our assumptions or behaviors are based on stereotypes and actively replacing with non-stereotype-based responses.
  • Surrounding ourselves with counter-stereotypic examples of group members—even films or pictures can be effective.
  • Consciously contrasting negative stereotypes with specific counter examples so that images that challenge the stereotypes become familiar.
  • Recognizing that “color-blindness” isn’t the solution to discrimination—instead, the goal is to “individuate” among people from other groups so that we are able to differentiate people from the stereotypes about their groups.
  • Taking the perspective of a person from another group—really asking what it would feel like to experience the world with a different social identity.
  • Finally, making an effort to engage in interactions with members of other groups. Ultimately, the more time we spend with people who may differ from us by race, ethnicity, gender, or other facets of identity, the less likely we are to hold biases across lines of difference.

While we should all take steps to reduce our own biases, truly reducing discrimination and other harms linked to different identities will require institutional changes. Institutions can begin by taking steps to recognize the conditions under which biases and other phenomena are most likely to affect decision-making. Researchers have identified these conditions to include:

  • Assumptions of objectivity: When most people assume that they are free from bias and objective, they are less likely to guard against bias.
  • Uncertain criteria: When criteria for important decisions are vague or subjective, people are at risk of allowing biases or stereotypes to seep into decisions without their awareness.
  • Time pressure: When people are under pressure to make decisions quickly or are stressed, they are more likely to rely upon biases or stereotypes.
  • Skewed incentives: Institutions often inadvertently create incentives that have the effect of harming vulnerable populations—examples include the “stop and frisk” practice by police in NYC.

In some instances, institutions will be able to alter the policies and practices that lead to bias simply by becoming aware of them and making straightforward changes. However, biased decision-making is not the only cause of harm.

In complex institutions, such as schools or hospitals, bias, racial anxiety, and stereotype threat intersect to cause harm.

  • Schools: Teachers may be more critical of black or Latinx students, compared to white students, because they are viewing them through a biased lens; however, researchers have also found that teachers can harm students of color by over-praising and failing to give much needed constructive criticism. Teachers may over-praise or refrain from giving critical feedback because they fear appearing biased. The effect on the students is not only that they are denied important information, but students often read over-praise as an assumption that they lack the ability to do better and it can result in student disengagement.
  • Hospitals: Doctors may provide differential treatment to black or Latinx patients compared to white patients because of bias and stereotyping, or visits may be undermined by providers’ anxieties when interacting with a patient of a different race or other facet of identity.

With either example, if interventions only address bias, there is a risk of exacerbating racial anxiety and failing to address the harms that follow. It is therefore crucial to understand how each of these phenomena are linked to the particular harms. The most effective way to learn this information is to engage in a mind science systems diagnostic in which data about actual behavior and outcomes within institutions is compared to survey results that measure the level of implicit bias, racial anxiety, and stereotype threat vulnerability of the relevant actors.

Social scientists act as independent experts and compile relevant data and conduct surveys that include explicit and implicit measures. When the two sets of data are compared, it is possible to see whether particular outcomes are more common when actors have high implicit bias levels or high racial anxiety levels, for example. Interventions can then be contextualized to address the precise phenomena. For example:

  • Schools: Teachers can use new methods of decision-making before suspending children to prevent bias or they can use rubrics for assessing performance and then communicate areas of strength and areas in need of improvement to students along with clear indications of the teacher’s belief in the student’s capacity to meet demanding standards.
  • Hospitals: Doctors can be given clear scripts for obtaining information and trained to communicate with more empathy and warmth with patients from other racial and ethnic groups.

In sum, any institution concerned that race, gender, and other factors may be at play can begin to make progress by taking these three steps:

  • Count: Look at your data and determine whether outcomes suggest that discrimination may be operating.
  • Diagnose: Sometimes it may be clear which policies or practices are leading to biased outcomes, but when the causes are not obvious, consult social scientists to determine the causes of these disparities.
  • Intervene: Working with social scientists, design and implement interventions to address the discrimination or disparities.

Once you have developed and operationalized an intervention, monitor the progress and continue to evaluate.

Learn more about Perception Institute.