“Michael Norton, Joseph Vandello, and John Darley have made similar findings [concerning the ‘malleability of merit’], again in the domain of gender. Participants were put in the role of manager of a construction company who had to hire a high-level employee. One candidate’s profile signaled more education; the other’s profile signaled more experience. Participants ranked these candidates (and three other filler candidates), and then explained their decisionmaking by writing down ‘what was most important in determining [their] decision.’ In the control condition, the profiles were given with just initials (not full names) and thus the test subjects could not assess their gender. In this condition, participants preferred the higher educated candidate 76 percent of the time. In the two experimental conditions, the profiles were given names that signaled gender, with the man having higher education in one condition and the woman having higher education in the other. When the man had higher education, the participants preferred him 75 percent of the time. In sharp contrast, when the woman had higher education, only 43 percent of the participants preferred her. The discrimination itself is not as interesting as how the discrimination was justified. In the control condition and the man-has-more-education condition, the participants ranked education as more important than experience about half the time (48 percent and 50 percent). By contrast, in the woman-has-more-education condition, only 22 percent ranked education as more important than experience. In other words, what counted as merit was redefined, in real time, to justify hiring the man. Was this weighting done consciously, as part of a strategy to manipulate merit in order to provide a cover story for decisionmaking caused and motivated by explicit bias? Or, was merit refactored in a more automatic, unconscious, dissonance-reducing rationalization, which would be more consistent with an implicit bias story? “

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


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