White Americans pay less attention to Black peers, says a new study

The ratio of peers who receive attention (bars, left axis) and their average evaluation (lines, right axis), according to race and experimental condition (n=1,449). Columbia University
A study of over 2,500 participants, published in Science Advances today, shows that white Americans pay less attention than their Black counterparts.

Stark and Levine had previously shown that traders from different ethnicities were more likely to be able to accurately price stocks. This supports the argument that a diverse workforce makes for a better workforce.

Levine noticed that business people were "intensified" in supporting diversity many years after the research was published. Levine discovered that while Black workers felt "welcomed at the door", their ideas and achievements were often overlooked. Stark and Levine developed a model that measures people's willingness for others to learn.

The current study involved a group consisting of white, gender-balanced women who were given a puzzle and offered a bonus for correctly answering it. Participants were able to view how their peers (either white or black) solved the same puzzle and could decide whether they wanted to learn from them. Researchers were able to see the input of peers to help them find the right answer. This allowed them to determine whether participants are more likely to reject information from another racial group.

Researchers found that participants were 33% more likely to pay attention and learn from their white peers than their Black peers. They also thought Black peers were less skilled than their white peers.

Stark stated that leaders of organizations should be aware of these findings to understand the racial disparity between patterns of attention. It's in everyone’s best interest to find solutions for this "racial attention deficit".

However, the researchers found that bias can be reversed.

Participants were given details about the achievements of their Black peers. These included degrees and awards. However, they still resisted learning from them. The most important thing about the puzzle task was the opportunity for participants to work side by side with their peers. The study showed that participants followed the lead of their Black peers in the second round of the puzzle task, when they saw how competent they were. The bias vanished.

Sylvester James Gates, Jr., theoretical physicist and president of American Physical Society, said that diversity promotes higher levels of performance. He was also a recipient of National Medal of Science. However, diversity is only possible when there is an active exchange of ideas. Racial Attention Deficit, Stark, Reypens, Stark and Levine illustrate how this communication does not occur between Black and white colleagues to the detriment the workplace environment.

Michle Lamont, former president of American Sociological Association and professor of sociology at Harvard University, said that the authors of this paper made a significant contribution in the social sciences. They demonstrated behaviorally how white people overlook, underestimate, and ignore Black people. Their study of "recognition gaps" opens up new avenues in our understanding of inequality. This is all about how everyday judgments of worth are so pervasive and make it difficult to fight racism.

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More information: Sheen S. Levine et al, Racial attention deficit, Science Advances (2021). Journal information: Science Advances Sheen S. Levine et al, Racial attention deficit,(2021). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abg9508