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One of the world's most prominent social psychologists on tackling racial bias

Lara O'Reilly
Executive Producer

Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt is one of the world’s leading experts on racial bias.

The Stanford University social psychologist’s new book, Biased explores the science behind unconscious racial bias and provides real-world examples of how businesses, public services have addressed prejudice at their organisations.

Speaking on Yahoo Finance UK’s Global Change Agents with Lianna Brinded show, Eberhardt, a 2014 MacArthur “Genius Award” grant recipient, said she conducted her “very first social psychology experiment” aged just five.

“I just was really excited about ... turning five and had been looking forward to this for quite a while,” Eberhardt said.

“My sister and my girlfriend next-door, they sat with me at the table and sung ‘Happy Birthday,’ and we had cake, and there were candles on the cake, and so it was an incredible moment I was waiting for and I was finally there: I was finally five.”

But panic soon set in when a young Eberhardt realised she would turn six and couldn’t stay five-years-old forever. She decided to stage an intervention: closing her eyes and promising herself she would forever remember exactly what it felt like in that moment to be five.

“That was my study and it’s funny because what I wished for actually did work: I still remember myself at five,” Eberhardt said. “I was on my way then to becoming a social psychologist, I think, even though I didn’t know what that meant.”

Social psychologist Dr Jennifer Eberhardt on the "Global Change Agents with Lianna Brinded" show.

Eberhardt’s academic trajectory really kicked into into gear when she was 12-years-old and moved from an all-black neighbourhood in Cleveland to a suburb that was majority-white. She began to notice racial disparities, such as access to resources and how few people were expected to go to college in her previous neighbourhood compared to her new one.

Eberhardt also noticed that her brain found it difficult to process white people’s faces, meaning she sometimes found it hard to recognise one school friend from another. A lot of her work now focuses on “the other race effect,” where people are much better at recognising faces of their own race.

Alongside her academic research, Eberhardt also works with companies including Nextdoor and Airbnb to help them adapt their platforms to reduce potential instances of bias.

Watch the full Global Change Agents interview for:

  • Eberhardt’s research exploring the “fusiform face area” of the brain that processes faces and how it can adapt over time

  • How the Oakland Police Department reduced its number of traffic stops by 40% by making one small change

  • How social network Nextdoor curbed racial profiling on its platform by 75%

  • The research surrounding racial bias and job applications

  • How companies can help employees mitigate their biases

  • Eberhardt’s work to use artificial intelligence to help shrink workplace disparities