The Psychology of Implicit Prejudice and Anti-Discrimination Law: Linking Social Psychological Theory to Legal Practice in the United States
The legal system in the United States has traditionally focused on the role of intentionality and conscious motive in ascertaining guilt in criminal infractions generally and in civil rights enforcement specifically (Krieger & Fiske, 2006). However, one of the most relevant and fundamental conclusions from social psychology is that, although intentional racial bigotry still exists in the Unites States and produces overt discrimination among an increasingly small segment of Whites, a substantial portion of Whites who truly believe they are not racially prejudiced harbor unconscious negative beliefs about Blacks that are expressed unintentionally in subtle forms of discrimination. This presentation will examine the evidence that documents the existence and prevalence of unconscious racial biases and will investigate its implications for legal processes. In the first section of the presentation, I will focus on the evidence from social psychology that unequivocally indicates that racism persists in American society, despite the fact that most White Americans genuinely believe people of all races should be treated fairly and equally. After reviewing the evidence from social psychology, I will discuss how subtle and unintentional discrimination can affect employment decisions made by Whites about Blacks, and how adverse employment decisions that occur as a result of unintentional racial bias may be detected. I will specifically focus on the types of evidence that may prove use useful in the litigation of anti-discrimination cases. Evidence based on finding in social psychology may complement the other types of evidence that are traditionally used by plaintiffs in such cases and increase the likelihood that subtle forms of bias can be detected through existing legal frameworks.
Keywords: Prejudice, Discrimination, Law
Dr. Jason Nier
Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, Connecticut College