Author Jennifer Eberhardt to Expose Hidden Prejudices and Biases in Penultimate Interfaith Lecture


Jennifer Eberhardt believes that in order to overcome bias, it must first be embraced.

“Bias is not a trait but a state,” said Eberhardt, an author and professor of psychology at Stanford University, in a March 2019 interview with NPR. “So, some situations make us more vulnerable to bias than others. And the more we understand this, the more powerful we are.”

With that understanding and power, Eberhardt said, people can begin to consider: “What are the situations where bias is more likely to come up?” And how can those situations be avoided?

Eberhardt grew up in an all-black neighborhood when her parents decided to move to a majority-white suburb. After they moved, Eberhardt said she noticed she was having trouble telling white faces apart from other faces.

“It’s like a precursor for bias, basically, because if your brain isn’t processing those faces, you’re not able to individuate the faces,” she said. “You’re thinking about those faces in terms of their category. Once you put a face in a category, then that can also trigger your beliefs and feelings about the people who are in that category.”

At 2 p.m. Thursday, August 22 in the Hall of Philosophy, Eberhardt will discuss being “Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do,” as part of the Week Nine Interfaith Lecture Series, “Exploring Race, Religion, and Culture.”

“Bias is not so much a stable trait,” Eberhardt said in an interview on “CBS This Morning.” “It’s something that can be triggered by the situations we find ourselves in.”

Eberhardt said she was on a plane with her son when she experienced racial bias from a surprising source.

“(My son) sees this guy, and he says, ‘Hey, that guy looks like daddy!’ ” she said. “I look at the guy, and he doesn’t look anything at all like daddy. It turns out he was the only black guy on the plane. I thought I was going to have a conversation about how not all black people look alike.”

According to Eberhardt, babies as young as 3 months old begin to show preferences for people of their own race.

“So this starts early,” she said on CBS. “It has to do with who we’re surrounded by. Our brains get conditioned to looking at those faces and being able to distinguish among them.”

Eberhardt said this conditioning comes from experience, and is therefore subject to the possibility of new experiences.

“If you have a social experience where we’re living with each other and we’re not living in segregated spaces … and we’re exposed to faces of other races all the time, then your brain gets tuned up to that,” she said on CBS. “It’s something that is wired in; but it’s a flexible wiring.”

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The author Chris Clements

Chris Clements is reporting on literary arts during his third summer with The Chautauquan Daily. He has previously written previews for the Interfaith Lecture Series and Sacred Song Services and covered literary arts digitally in 2020. Chris is a second-year grad student at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he is a Master of Fine Arts candidate in creative writing, specializing in fiction. He’s passionate about all things related to literature, music and film, especially author David Foster Wallace, jazz singer Cecile McLorin Salvant and the films of Paul Thomas Anderson.