When the audio of LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling telling his girlfriend not to "bring black people" to his team's games hit the Internet, the condemnations were immediate. It was clear to all that Sterling was a racist, and the punishment was swift: the NBA banned him for life. It was, you might say, a pretty straightforward case.
When you take a look at the emerging science of what motivates people to behave in a racist or prejudiced way, though, matters quickly grow complicated. In fact, if there's one cornerstone finding when it comes to the psychological underpinnings of prejudice, it's that actual out-and-out or "explicit" racists—like Sterling—are just one part of the story. Perhaps far more common are cases of so-called "implicit" prejudice, where people harbor subconscious biases, of which they may not even be aware, but that come out in controlled psychology experiments.
Much of the time, these are not the sort of people whom we would normally think of as racists. "They might say they think it's wrong to be prejudiced," explains New York University neuroscientist David Amodio, an expert on the psychology of intergroup bias, on this week’s episode. Amodio says that white participants in his studies "might write down on a questionnaire that they are positive in their attitudes about black people…but when you give them a behavioral measure, to how they respond to pictures of black people, compared with white people, that's where we start to see the effects come out."
On the show this week we talk to Amodio about his research on the neuroscience of prejudice, its implications, and what we can do about it.
This episode of also features a discussion of how scientists turned to a group of video gamers to help solve a complex problem involving how the human retina detects motion, and of the release of the groundbreaking National Climate Assessment.