"You don't have to be a bigot to have bias," expert explains

"Biased": Expert on how bias affects us all

An analysis of nearly 100 million traffic stops across the country found that black drivers are stopped more often than white drivers; they are also about twice as likely to be searched by police.

Jennifer Eberhardt, one of the world's leading experts on unconscious racial bias, has conducted training sessions with law enforcement for nearly 15 years on how bias influences their behavior.

In her new book, "Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice that Shapes What We See, Think, and Do" (Viking), she explains how all of us are vulnerable to racial bias. Yet many people are afraid to admit to having a bias because they don't want people to think they are racist.

Jennifer Eberhardt. CBS News

"I think typically when people think about bias, they're thinking about burning crosses and people filled with hate," Eberhardt said on "CBS This Morning" Monday. "But you don't have to be a bigot to have bias. Bias is affecting all of us. You don't have to be a bad person.

"Bias is not so much a stable trait, but it's something that can be triggered by the situations we find ourselves in. And some situations make us more vulnerable to acting on bias than others."

She said the foundations are wired into our brains from infancy. "Babies as young as three months of age already are showing a preference for faces of their own race," she said. "This starts early. I mean, it has to do with who we're surrounded by, and our brains get conditioned to looking at those faces and being able to distinguish among them."


"How do you un-wire the brain?" asked co-host John Dickerson. "What you're describing sounds so hard-wired from the infant stage."

"But the wiring comes from experience," she said. "If you have a social experience where we're living with each other and we're not living in segregated spaces, say, and you're exposed to faces of other races all the time, then your brain gets tuned up to that. So it's flexible, even though it's something that is wired in, but it's a flexible wiring."

Eberhardt says implicit bias can enter our lives in many areas, even among people who do not believe they are racist or bigoted: "It can creep into biases in our own neighborhoods and how we view people seen as outsiders in that neighborhood, just based on their race maybe, or people are thinking, 'OK, this person is suspicious.' Or in our workplace, bias can creep in in how we evaluate others and how we give promotions and how we hire. Bias can creep in in the educational context, with teachers evaluating students and deciding on who needs to be discipline and how severely."

Physical recognition is also a factor. Members of a group may not look alike to each other, but they have a harder time differentiating outside of their group. Eberhardt described an example of race playing a role in muggings among Asian women. When trying to identify the assailant among a police lineup, the women couldn't decipher between multiple African-American men.

"It's almost as though the muggers actually had access to the science," Eberhardt said. "When the police officers would catch them and ask, 'Why did you go to Chinatown [and] choose these women to rob?' They said they go there 'because the Asian people can't tell the brothers apart.' They wouldn't be recognized, [so they] couldn't be picked out of the police lineup."

Eberhardt has worked with several police departments to help them better understand bias. "What I've done is gone in as a subject-matter expert to analyze data on stops and searches. And so that's where my focus has been. And I'm in Oakland, California right now, working with the department there on their reform efforts and trying to figure out a way to decrease the number of stops of African-Americans in particular who ultimately are not committing [a] crime."

"Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do" by Jennifer L. Eberhardt (Viking) , in Hardcover, eBook and Audio formats, available via Amazon beginning Tuesday

  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.