“Broadly speaking,…research [on the ‘malleability of merit’] demonstrates that people frequently engage in motivated reasoning in selection decisions that we justify by changing merit criteria on the fly, often without conscious awareness. In other words, as between two plausible candidates that have different strengths and weaknesses, we first choose the candidate we like — a decision that may well be influenced by implicit factors — and then justify that choice by molding our merit standards accordingly. We can make this point more concrete. In one experiment, Eric Luis Uhlmann and Geoffrey Cohen asked participants to evaluate two finalists for police chief —one male, the other female. One candidate’s profile signaled book smart, the other’s profile signaled streetwise, and the experimental design varied which profile attached to the woman and which to the man. Regardless of which attributes the male candidate featured, participants favored the male candidate and articulated their hiring criteria accordingly. For example, education (book smarts) was considered more important when the man had it. Surprisingly, even the attribute of being family oriented and having children was deemed more important when the man had it.”

Source: Hon. Mark W. Bennett, Devon Carbado, Pam Casey, Jerry Kang,  et al. “Implicit Bias In The Courtroom.” 56 UCLA L. Review 1124, 1156-1157. 2012.


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