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Blind Spot: The Hidden Biases of Good People

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I know my own mind.
I am able to assess others in a fair and accurate way.

These self-perceptions are challenged by leading psychologists Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald as they explore the hidden biases we all carry from a lifetime of exposure to cultural attitudes about age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, social class, sexuality, disability status, and nationality.

“Blindspot” is the authors’ metaphor for the portion of the mind that houses hidden biases. Writing with simplicity and verve, Banaji and Greenwald question the extent to which our perceptions of social groups—without our awareness or conscious control—shape our likes and dislikes and our judgments about people’s character, abilities, and potential.

In Blindspot, the authors reveal hidden biases based on their experience with the Implicit Association Test, a method that has revolutionized the way scientists learn about the human mind and that gives us a glimpse into what lies within the metaphoric blindspot.

The title’s “good people” are those of us who strive to align our behavior with our intentions. The aim of Blindspot is to explain the science in plain enough language to help well-intentioned people achieve that alignment. By gaining awareness, we can adapt beliefs and behavior and “outsmart the machine” in our heads so we can be fairer to those around us. Venturing into this book is an invitation to understand our own minds.

Brilliant, authoritative, and utterly accessible, Blindspot is a book that will challenge and change readers for years to come.

272 pages, Hardcover

First published February 12, 2013

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Mahzarin R. Banaji

4 books43 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 690 reviews
Profile Image for Yaaresse.
2,011 reviews16 followers
April 10, 2017
I made it almost halfway through the book and then realized I am under no obligation to finish something I find this dull and obvious.

Your Cliff Notes for this book: Humans like categories and are very good at recognizing patterns. Humans live in cultures. Cultures tend to be homogeneous and distrust "otherness." Individuals pick up these biases from their cultures. As society has evolved (which, looking at daily headlines, is a questionable assumption), prejudice/bias is now considered "bad." We know consciously that it's "bad" to be prejudiced, but we don't usually realize how much bias/prejudice we subconsciously have absorbed and act on; however, if you become aware that you have a tendency toward unconscious prejudices, you can consciously work to overcome them.

There really isn't much new here. Maybe the authors created a new tool to measure just how biased we are, but I remember the same basic ideas presented in my 80s-era psych and sociology classes.

My real (biased) takeaway on this: Research psychologists need to get out in the real world more where the things they think they are "discovering" are fairly obvious to those of us who have ever been on the receiving end of bias...which is pretty much anyone who has ever interacted with someone not exactly like him/her.

Note: Usually I don't affix a star rating to books on my DNF/abandoned list. That said, I make exceptions if A) I've gotten more than 1/3 of the way through the book before giving up, and/or B) I thought the book especially inane, insufferable or just plain old awful.
Profile Image for Kaethe.
6,358 reviews454 followers
November 19, 2014
The short form:

Humans are really good at detecting patterns
All cultures include assumptions about groups
Humans absorb these assumptions as implicit associations regardless of their explicit beliefs
More privileged people grossly underestimate the harm from small acts of prejudice against less privileged people
Good people recognize these mindbugs and seek ways to work around them

Try and be excellent to each other

Library copy
Profile Image for Kelly.
878 reviews3,974 followers
August 11, 2018
This was an all-faculty read at my school. To be honest, if you've got any passing familiarity with the general coverage of issues of race, racism and identity going around in the press for the last several years, you're likely going to have heard much of this before. Nonetheless, it does gather a lot of what you've likely read together and put together in a lucid, linear structure, walking the reader through neuropsychological structures that can lead to negative stereotypes forming, from our brain's tendency to sort things into categories to the book's extensive discussion with the results of the Implicit Association Tests (IATs) out of Project Implicit at Harvard, and what that reveals about the implicit biases of the millions of Americans who have taken the test.

If you're not familiar, first, you should definitely go take at least one of the tests to get the idea. And second, according to the scientists involved, the IAT tests prove that at over 75% of Americans who have taken the test show strong implicit biases, whether that be in the area of race, gender, age, or any other category tested. Even more strikingly, this was true whether or not they held views contrary to what the test showed their implicit bias to be. With regard to race, at least a sizable minority of white Americans who have strongly held egalitarian views nonetheless show strong implicit bias toward associating negative or violent images with African Americans. A majority, as of the writing of the book, of people who believe in gender equality nonetheless still had strong implicit associations of women with the home and as not being equally as good at math and science.
The conclusions reached are, then, not particularly surprising: there is a significant chance you probably have some level of implicit bias, and implicit bias has been proven to lead to discriminatory behavior, which is proven to impact the groups that you are have some level of negative bias towards. And you may need to expand your definition of what both "bias" can mean and what "discriminatory behavior" is.

The book is structured for any person inclined to read this research and say something defensive like, "But I'm a good person who is nice to others around me!" or "I would never lie, ever!" or "I don't believe in and would never take any racist action!" to be able to have that reaction, be told that's a great start, but here's why you're wrong or at least that there's a whole lot more to it than that. So if you know someone like this, this would be a good book to give to them so you don't have to explain. It's written largely for that person.

So what to do about it, to fix these awful hidden biases that you are horrified to discover you may have? Unfortunately this was the most needed and the shortest part of the book. The solution that one researcher comes up with- making sure she is continually exposed, day after day, to images and stories that contradict the implicit biases shown in her own test results, is the only one that they seem to have any evidence of working, as far as they know- and even then it only works when it is repeated constantly- otherwise the effects are still seen. (So basically, once again, representation matters.)

Maybe that's the next book? Or likely not, as a lot of researchers don't feel comfortable going beyond the results of their experiments (which is my frustration with reading a lot of education research for my job- it stops short of policy prescription, because "I'm just a scientist, ma'am!" but then those who pick up the policy transfer work often have much less of a clue what they're talking about.). So probably, again, another book, for someone else to write.
Profile Image for Zora.
70 reviews3 followers
November 1, 2018
Good book, but it’s a few years old, so unfortunately didn’t include the latest bias research.

There wasn’t new information. If you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, and probably a few other books, you won’t likely gain much from this one. 3.5 stars.
Profile Image for Justin Morgan.
8 reviews
May 26, 2017
Interesting but repetitive. It was repetitive and there were some good observations but it was very repetitive. Didn't finish the book.
Profile Image for Donna.
722 reviews6 followers
January 25, 2016
An excellent book highlighting what we all fear we have deep down... some biases that may influence our behavior toward others different from ourselves in some way. A fully accessible survey of the scientific literature on the subject and an in depth review of the Implicit Association Test, which is a quick and simple way for individuals to evaluate themselves. Check it out. https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/

Once any hidden biases are brought to our consciousness, then we can actively work on doing something about it. A very timely book for the debates that are occuring on race relations in the US, although the book also describes other biases that relate to gender, sexual orientation, age and overall appearance.
57 reviews
June 11, 2014
Interesting insights, boring delivery. Half the book is about racial stereotyping, which seems to be a hot media issue these days. You might think that this book about how everyone harbors some level/version of prejudice, but it's actually about how YOU harbor some level/version of prejudice. Even if you don't know it.
Profile Image for فادي أحمد.
506 reviews832 followers
June 12, 2022
أحب الكتب التي تعالج قضايا نعيشها بشكل يومي بالاستناد إلى أبحاث ودراسات علمية.
بعد قراءته والقيام بالاختبارات التي فيه اتضح أني منحاز لبعض القوالب النمطية (بالشكل والعرق والاسم واللون) التي تسربت إلينا من الأهل أو الإعلام أو رسّخها كثرة التداول دون تمحيص.
Profile Image for Melissa.
185 reviews15 followers
March 9, 2015
I highly recommend this book. It explores in-depth the finding that unconscious attitudes can influence people's actions without their knowledge. Using data obtained using the Implicit Association Test (developed at Harvard), the authors make a convincing case to convince the reader that, yes, you probably are prejudiced in ways you don't know, and yes, those prejudices impact your actions in ways which would horrify you if you knew about it.

It's another way to understand what "white privilege" is all about. No judgement; just facts. And these facts are pretty hard to ignore.

Approximately 75% of Americans (of all races and ethnicities) demonstrate automatic White preference on tests of their unconscious attitudes. These attitudes are not chosen, and are often contrary to what the person believes in their conscious mind (eg: all races are equal). Still, the unconscious preference for and willingness to help people who are white continues to poison all areas of our society, hurting anyone who is not white.

The insight provided by this book is invaluable as we ponder the death of Trayvon Martin; the overpopulation of our prisons with people of color; stop-and-frisk policies in NYC; and our own wishful thinking about living in a "post-racial" society.

"...there now exists a substantial body of evidence that automatic White preference...predicts discriminatory behavior even among people who fervently espouse egalitarian views. This evidence is far too substantial to ignore..."
Profile Image for Ariah.
Author 2 books5 followers
February 8, 2015
For anyone who likes the genre of books like Freakonomics and The Tipping Point this is a great read. And for anyone else whose interested in the intersection of science and behavior with issues like structural racism and sexism (and plenty of other 'isms'), I'd highly recommend this book.

Implicit-Association Test (IAT) is a relatively new social psychology test designed to "detect the strength of a person's automatic association between mental representations of objects in memory." It makes a scientific case beyond our stereotypes and prejudices, while not at all excusing behavior, but rather taking a more analytic approach to mitigating the negative impact of those biases.

I highly recommend this for anyone who does any work around dismantling structural racism or any other systemic inequity issues. It might help develop some more tools for the work.
Profile Image for Mary.
35 reviews2 followers
August 27, 2018
I was assigned parts of this for orientation at school, and finished it mostly out of spite. Implicit bias is a totally worthwhile topic, but this book was just not great. At one point it suggests that racial stereotypes are maybe ok when they’re positive stereotypes. At another, the author tells a racist joke to make the point that things can be simultaneously offensive and funny, or something...? (The joke was not funny). A bizarre chart categorizes gay and lesbian as genders. A throwaway joke about how only the only people who like bugs are little boys seems, uh, remarkably un-self-aware joke for a book about avoiding stereotyping. The cultural references are so dated that I was almost embarrassed for the authors (Seinfeld went off the air when my classmates were, on average, about 4, so I’m guessing “not that there’s anything wrong with that” doesn’t have a ton of resonance). Plus, the book is just extremely repetitive (it would have been much better off as an article than a whole book. And all of this ignores a more substantive debate about whether concentrating on implicit bias is even the best way to tackle the injustices in our legal system or society at large, but that’s more on my school for choosing to assign this book. So that’s possibly my last post here until, like, May, when maybe I’ll have time to read an entire book again.
Profile Image for gaudeo.
278 reviews46 followers
May 31, 2019
This is a great book for someone (white) who is just beginning to think about racism. The instruments the authors use are intriguing for what they reveal about unconscious biases, and the basic revelations about the connections between those biases and racial (and other) stereotypes are solid. However, for someone who is looking for meatier fare about racism--especially its embeddedness in social institutions--this book will leave you hungering for more.
Profile Image for Eric Sutton.
355 reviews1 follower
July 8, 2020
An interesting work, though the "Good People" of the title is a bit misleading. Good intentions can be damaging, of course, but this book focuses more on the science behind our biases, which applies to most of us, across racial and gender (among others) divides, not just those deemed "good." The book posits what most of us already know: we are racist and sexist and show preferences and biases whether we consciously understand them or not. We have been conditioned through capitalism and social attitudes to automatically make judgments. Blind Spot lays that information on the table through psychological and neurological studies, and even invites us to participate in some of the exercises that test word/image associations. The authors don't offer much in the way of solutions other than making us aware of our prejudices and hopefully more attuned to them. The book became rather dry once the first test was unpacked and then applied to countless other cases. As a reader, you knew what the results would be. There are, however, two appendices that synchronize their data as it applies to race relations in America, and I thought it was valuable to understand how individual hidden biases become hegemonic and thus influence policy and the lives of minorities. If nothing else, to process that we've been codified with prejudice will - like much of the DEI work gaining traction - help us to acknowledge its existence and work to reverse it, and not for personal improvement, but for the greater good of the victims denied their rightful opportunities.
Profile Image for Mike Cuenca.
Author 5 books2 followers
April 17, 2014
I think this books refutes any claim that the United States is in a post-racial era. Statistical and other scientific evidence presented in the book clearly establish that minority Americans face disadvantages that can be at least partially attributed to either conscious or non-conscious bias. The fact that most of this bias occurs outside the awareness of the perpetrators highlights the need for more education and counseling about how we all need to accept that we may not always be as egalitarian as we believe we are.
Profile Image for David.
145 reviews8 followers
March 6, 2014
This is a must read book for everyone who is concerned with race relations, equity, and justice. These two researchers demonstrate how even good people can harbor unconscious prejudice in race, gender, age, religion, and weight. However, the real focus of the book is on race. Institutional and explicit racism have hurt black Americans and continue to prevent them, as a group, from making progress in America. Orwell said it best in "Animal Farm": "All animals are equal but some are more equal than others."
African Americans endured two hundred years of legal slavery and another one hundred years of legal segregation which would limit any group of people; however, even after the passages of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965, and Fair Housing Act of 1968 blacks still do not have a level playing field.
You must take one of IAT tests. Even if you think you are liberal you have hidden prejudices that will come out into the open. This is an important book.
Profile Image for Catherine.
855 reviews
July 11, 2014
Really an interesting and also a disturbing book. It requires some test taking as you read, so my recommendation is to read it on a tablet kindle app, and just go straight to the online website via the provided link to do the tests. I am appalled at my own implicit biases now, but at least I know they are there and my conscious brain can now work on trying to correct them. This is one of those books every "good person" should read.
8 reviews
June 5, 2021
Over the past year and a bit I have taken a deeper dive into the psychological, non-fiction realm. Partly due to my own peculiarities in wanting to know why we humans behave the way we do (and to understand my odd brain faults), but also to get a better understanding for the ongoing deeply-rooted social and political issues (ie. systemic racism, gender stereotyping, etc.) that we are up against. Like many, I've been wondering what I can do to help solve these global human rights problems, and so I set out to learn more about them from the perspective of human psychology so that I may apply these tools to myself and perhaps pass it on others in my close social circles. Having said all of that, I can say this book is a great step towards better enlightenment and understanding as to why issues such as systemic discrimination are created and continue to persist after decades of hard work to dismantle them. Plus you might find some fun quirks about your brain along the way, enjoy!
Profile Image for Graeme Newell.
173 reviews44 followers
September 23, 2019
This book explains the topic of implicit bias in decision making. Most of us believe we are rational beings and our decisions are primarily based upon a stone-cold evaluation of the facts. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Research shows that at least 85% of the human decision-making process is completely subconscious. The decision-making process goes something like this: we feel something in our subconscious mind, then we enroll our conscious mind in finding evidence to verify what we already believe. It feels like a rational decision but our lizard brain is really running the show.

Implicit bias testing lays bare all the nastiest, most-socially unacceptable beliefs that lurk buried in every human mind. The author reveals all the interesting ways these subconscious biases show up in everyday life.

The most interesting part of the book was towards the end when he does a deep dive on implicit bias associated with race, age, gender, sexual preference, nationality, and ethnic group. Very few people in the world believe they are discriminatory towards those different than themselves. Most of us try very hard to be fair and unbiased when interacting with other groups. But the research shows that most of us are still wildly discriminatory in our unconscious choices, even those who have dedicated their lives to tolerance and inclusion.

Instinctual brain characteristics and a lifetime of mundane conditioning are the most powerful predictors of our own level of intolerance for those outside our social group. Our conscious brain’s decision not to be a bigot is a far less potent influence.

My favorite section of the book is when the author does a deep dive into the new research on how our own discriminations tend to manifest themselves unseen in our own daily lives. Most people don’t discriminate against other groups by actively seeking harm; they do it by unconsciously advocating for members of their own tribe, thus excluding other groups.

This might take the form of making a phone call to help a colleague get a job, loaning a friend money, helping with childcare for an afternoon, or loaning a friend a car. We tend to do favors for people who are like us because our instinctual brain feels most comfortable surrounded by our own in-group. Most of us do fewer favors for outsiders who are not in our immediate social group. Thus, those different than ourselves receive fewer opportunities.

The author provides a wonderful way to combat this problem. When you do a favor for someone in your own tribe, actively seek to do the same for an outsider. For example, if I help my friend's white, middle-class, heterosexual son get a job, I should actively seek out a gay, African-American woman and do the same for her.

If I donate money to a charity advocated by myself and my friends, I should give an equal amount of money to a charity completely alien to my own preferences. Match favor for favor, doing good for those who scare you a little bit.

The author tells the story of a white, middle class woman who wanted to leave a legacy gift to her alma mater, a university that is 90% white. To balance the scales of her own implicit biases, she also gave an equal gift to a charity completely outside her purview - the United Negro College Fund.

This book gave me some great insights into our true motivations. After reading this book I am more in touch than ever that we are all just big bundles of instinct walking around bumping into one another. We kid ourselves into thinking we are in control of our own minds. I think the key is to acknowledge and embrace our wildly irrational brains.
Profile Image for Aditi.
63 reviews16 followers
July 26, 2013
This book, I believe must be read by almost anyone who is unaware of the idea of Implicit Association (as I was). The main text is only 167 pages, the rest is Appendices, Notes and Index. For the 167 pages of text, the information content is very good.

At the heart of it, the book explains the presence of blindspots, i.e. presence of implicit associations that our brain makes, without our conscious awareness, between groups and certain characteristics/properties. Such unconscious bias may (and usually does) lead to (invisible) discriminatory behaviour - as happens for example, while choosing a boss or employee of a particular gender, or choosing to help a particular type of individual/group thereby increasing its privileges, and so on.

The authors include Implicit Association Tests (IATs), designed to reveal such blindspots, within the book. They also support their claims by describing a lot of experiments/data, most of which were fun and interesting.

A simple IAT they begin with, reveals unsurprisingly, that people usually associate pleasant feelings with flowers, and unpleasant feelings with insects. A more complex one is the race IAT, which found that people (about 70% of test takers) associate pleasant feelings with White children as against Black ones, even when they claim to be perfectly egalitarian and indeed are consciously so.

The authors also suggest the origins of in-group bias ( or out-group hostility). They end with possible ways to outsmart the biases, as they presently do not know the ways to eradicate them. But I believe, the knowledge of our own blindspots, makes them less sinister as we might attempt corrective measures, to render them less effective.
1,493 reviews17 followers
January 11, 2013

This book is a result of the research of psychologists Banaji and Greenwald using the Implicit Association Test (more information about the test and the actual tests are available on their website https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/) They examine hidden biases people may have regarding thing such as race, gender, and age as well as a number of other things. They look at what those hidden biases may mean in regards to our behavior and what if anything we can do to guard against them. It's definitely an interesting though slightly disheartening read. It's hard to think that either your discriminating against people or they are discriminating against you via such an ingrained subliminal bias that there is almost no way it can be changed. I read an e-version of this book as an advanced reader's copy through NetGalley. If you plan to read it I would highly recommend reading the book in print rather than electronically. There were a lot of tests included in the book that were virtually impossible to do anything with in the format that I read it.
Profile Image for Osmose.
15 reviews
April 3, 2022
Short and accessible, free of unnecessary jargon, I think that Blind Spot effectively achieves the goal of showing the gap between explicit and implicit attitude/bias.

Taking advantage of their praising implicit bias tests (IAT), the authors drag your attention toward the realization that although explicit racism/sexism/homophobia/etc. may “seem” to belong to previous centuries, the unconscious (also referred to as hidden or automatic) forms are clearly still operational. Like, in most of us, including people as good as Malcom Gladwell—a must-read if you haven’t yet ;)

Once we are convinced that automatic biases impact certain jugements we are ready to think and implement ways to fight or avoid them. If the empirical results aren’t enough, you can take a few IAT yourself—and are indeed highly encouraged to do so. Taking IATs makes reading more experiential and will probably grant you at least one no-way-me-too moment.

If you read and enjoy Blind Spot, a further reading could be Sapolsky’s masterpiece Behave—what a book!
Profile Image for Abranch71.
426 reviews3 followers
December 20, 2016
It has been two months since I have been able to settle my mind to concentrate on a book. I thought that reading about the Hidden Biases of Good People would make me more understanding of those whose opinions are different than mine, but it hasn't made me feel any better. I'm still upset at those who have supported the campaign for and cast votes for a selfish, greedy, manipulative asshole. The point of this book is to point out that we ALL have biases. Some of us have the ability to recognize this and NOT act on those biases (or support those who do), because we know right from wrong, and we want to make the world a better place for EVERYONE.
I'm still really pissed.
Profile Image for Darren McG.
33 reviews1 follower
July 9, 2016
Very interesting and timely read for our society today. The book is loaded with scientific information and observational insight on how the mind works to shape our view of those similar to us and different from us. The Implicit Association Test is very fascinating. But as noted in the book it can be potentially very traumatizing to learn your own hidden biases. This book (or the concepts within it) should be required reading for anyone who works with diverse clients or customers, handles complex conflict resolution, or struggles with relating to other groups.
Profile Image for Lolita.
16 reviews4 followers
February 3, 2017
A wonderful book, written respectfully, kindly but not hiding nor softening the truth.

“In the modern world, where friendships, collaborations, businesses, and entire economies span the globe in a highly networked web of interdependence, the ability to create alliances that bypass boundaries of race, nationality, and culture is critical to our well-being, our prosperity, our productivity—and perhaps even our survival.”

Excerpt From: Mahzarin R. Banaji. “Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People.” Delacorte Press
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Jane.
58 reviews2 followers
February 7, 2017
A great and fairly quick read for 2017. This book focuses on out hidden biases, those that operate below our level of consciousness. It includes instruments to test your own hidden biases on a number of marginalized groups, race foremost among them. Most of us, including members of marginalized groups, will discover that as much as we proclaim our commitment to equality for all, our unconscious brain is operating under the surface trying to reinforce systemic biases in our culture and institutions. These "mindbugs" are not easy to overcome, but understanding is the first step.
Profile Image for Walter.
Author 1 book19 followers
March 22, 2020
There are very few books that I would put on my "must read" list, and this - along with Man's Search for Meaning" - is one of them. Certainly not a well-known book, written by two social psychologists, it explores "the hidden biases of good people." It also provides the reader with several good self assessments about his/her own biases. I am currently reading it for the third time.
Profile Image for Leigh.
Author 8 books17 followers
July 21, 2016
Because I had already taken the IAT and read a fair amount about it before I read this book, there wasn't much new here for me. And the treatment of racism in the book is pretty simplistic. But it's a good introduction to the idea of implicit bias and will open eyes for those who aren't otherwise steeped in this stuff.
Profile Image for Anna.
690 reviews127 followers
December 11, 2015
I love this book.
Iʻve listened to it a few times, while doing other stuff, and with pretty fast pace.
So much insight. Iʻll listen to it again a few more times over time since I no longer need to worry about returning some forms of library books on time...
Profile Image for Sacha.
943 reviews
October 9, 2018
Full disclosure, I could only skim. This is very basic and workable for someone with almost no knowledge of implicit associations, equity, or modern life. I’m assuming three stars for someone new to this material.
Profile Image for Dawn Stamper.
7 reviews
April 27, 2020

This book will likely challenge you. You will be asked to full in the face of your own hidden biases and confront them. The question will be, what do you do with the knowledge you gain?
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