Title: Paradoxes of Mind and Society: The Bounded Nature of Cognition and the Unbounded Possibilities for American Democracy
23 - January - Lecture
25 - January - Discussion
Lecturer: Mahzarin R. Banaji, Department of Psychology, Yale University

Mahzarin Banaji took her Ph.D. from Ohio State University, did postdoctoral work at University of Washington and is currently Professor of Psychology at Yale University, where she has been since 1986. Her research focuses on unconscious processes in social judgment, with a focus on implicit forms of prejudice and discrimination. She is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and currently a member of its Board of Scientific Affairs. She is a fellow of the American Psychological Society and served as Secretary of the organization. She is also a member of the Society of Experimental Social Psychology, and served on its Executive Committee. Her research is supported by both the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Mental Health. She served as Associate Editor of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology and Psychological Review. Among her awards, she has received Yale’s Lex Hixon Prize for Teaching Excellence, a Cattell Fund Award, and in 1997 a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation. In 2000, her work with R. Bhaskar received the Gordon Allport Prize for Intergroup Relations. A website that measures unconscious social biases created with her colleagues Brian Nosek and Anthony Greenwald is available for largely educational purposes (www.yale.edu/implicit).

Lecture Description:

All human beings are prone to systematic errors of thinking and feeling. We will participate in demonstrations of such errors, especially as they occur when humans assess, evaluate, and judge the most important stimulus in their environment ˆ other humans. From first impressions to enduring ones, from decisions about the qualities a person or group possesses to decisions about the worth of a person or social group, unconscious constraints on thinking and feeling create parallel constraints on social justice.

How deep are the bounds on human thinking and feeling and how do they shape social judgment? The focus of my research has been on the mechanics of unconscious mental processes, with attention to those that operate without conscious awareness, intention, or control. On the basis of dozens of experiments we ask: How should we conceive of equality in light of evidence about unconscious preferences, desires, and beliefs among those who are consciously unprejudiced? How should the impact of unintended harm be determined? In the obvious absence of simple solutions, new approaches to ensuring equality can gain by looking to discoveries in the mind sciences about the bounds on social thought and feeling. Based on the evidence, we may enter into a discussion of new forms of justice within democratic societies. To do so will require coming face-to-face with the paradox of the ordinary yet powerful mental threats to fairness and equality on the one hand and the democratic ideal of a just society on the other.

Copyright 2001, Mahzarin R. Banaji






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