What works to reduce police brutality

Psychologists’ research is pinpointing the factors that lead to overly aggressive, biased policing—and intervention that can prevent it

police in riot gear

When the Las Vegas Police Department applied a psychology-informed “hands off” policy for officers involved in foot chases, use of force dropped by 23%. In Seattle, officers trained in a “procedural justice” intervention designed in part by psychologists used force up to 40% less. These are just a few examples of the work the field is doing to address police brutality.

“There’s much more openness to the idea of concrete change among police departments,” says Joel Dvoskin, PhD, ABPP, a clinical and forensic psychologist and past president of APA’s Div. 18 (Psychologists in Public Service).

That shift is backed by support from the public. Since 2016, the share of Americans who say that police

Psychologists have already played a critical role in the reform process—from collecting data on biased police stops, searches and use of force to designing and delivering interventions that reduce the chances that police will rely on stereotypes, for instance by limiting the amount of discretion officers have during searches.

Now, psychologists are promoting those interventions to more police departments, conducting research to determine how well they work and continuing to collect and organize data on police behavior and department culture.

Criminal justice—police, courts, prisons—has been called an evidence-free zone,” says Tom Tyler, PhD, a professor of psychology at Yale Law School and an expert in the psychology of justice. “People in positions of power tend to make policy decisions based on intuition and common sense—presumptions that we as psychologists recognize are often in error.”

“What’s really needed is an evidence-informed model of criminal justice,” he says. “And a lot of that evidence can come from psychologists.”

Psychological research in action

In 2015, President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing reviewed scientific data on policing, recommending major policy changes at the federal level to improve oversight, training, officer wellness and more (Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, 2015).

Federal efforts have slowed in recent years, with most changes happening at the local level. But with around 18,000 police departments nationwide, that response has been fragmented and inconsistent (National Sources of Law Enforcement Employment Data, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2016).

Still, psychologists have forged ahead with efforts that are making a difference. One key contribution involves spurring policy changes and interventions based on psychological insights.

“One of the most influential approaches coming from psychology is training in procedurally just policing,” says Calvin Lai, PhD, an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.

That approach aims to increase the public’s trust in police by drawing on psychological research on justice and fairness. It involves teaching officers strategies such as explaining to citizens why they’ve been stopped and how it will benefit public safety (Principles of Procedurally Just Policing, The Justice Collaboratory at Yale Law School, 2018).

“We know that the policing model of using force to compel compliance lowers the crime rate but does not build trust,” says Tyler, who has developed and studied models of procedurally just policing. “The crime rate has declined about 75% in the last 30 years, but public trust in the police hasn’t increased at all.”

His research has shown that what community members really want is for police to treat them with respect and to give them a voice—a chance to explain their situation before action is taken. People also want to know that police are sincere, care about the well-being of their community, and act in an unbiased and consistent way—for example, by explaining the rules they use and how they’re applying them.

A study in Seattle randomly assigned officers to receive training in procedurally just policing, leading to a reduction in use of force of between 15% and 40%, depending on the situation (Owens, E., et al., Criminology & Public Policy, Vol. 17, No. 1, 2018).

“It seems to be doing what we’d hope in terms of promoting better relationships between police officers and community members,” says Lai.

The Center for Policing Equity (CPE), led by psychologist Phillip Atiba Goff, PhD, of Yale University, has also led a number of psychology-driven policy changes in police departments around the country. In an effort to cut down on high-adrenaline encounterswhere police officers are more likely to rely on stereotypes—Goff urged the Las Vegas Police Department to bar officers involved in a foot pursuit from handling suspects when the chase ends. The policy led to a 23% drop in use of force at the department, an 11% reduction in officer injury and a simultaneous drop in racial disparities in use of force data. CPE has also pioneered efforts to recruit racially and ethnically diverse officer candidates and to make immigration enforcement more consistent.

Another key area that psychological interventions target is

police in riot gear

When the Las Vegas Police Department applied a psychology-informed “hands off” policy for officers involved in foot chases, use of force dropped by 23%. In Seattle, officers trained in a “procedural justice” intervention designed in part by psychologists used force up to 40% less. These are just a few examples of the work the field is doing to address police brutality.

“There’s much more openness to the idea of concrete change among police departments,” says Joel Dvoskin, PhD, ABPP, a clinical and forensic psychologist and past president of APA’s Div. 18 (Psychologists in Public Service).

That shift is backed by support from the public. Since 2016, the share of Americans who say that police use the right amount of force, treat racial and ethnic groups equally and hold officers accountable for misconduct has declined substantially, according to the Pew Research Center (Majority of Public Favors Giving Civilians the Power to Sue Officers for Misconduct, 2020).

Psychologists have already played a critical role in the reform process—from collecting data on biased police stops, searches and use of force to designing and delivering interventions that reduce the chances that police will rely on stereotypes, for instance by limiting the amount of discretion officers have during searches.

Now, psychologists are promoting those interventions to more police departments, conducting research to determine how well they work and continuing to collect and organize data on police behavior and department culture.

“Criminal justice—police, courts, prisons—has been called an evidence-free zone,” says Tom Tyler, PhD, a professor of psychology at Yale Law School and an expert in the psychology of justice. “People in positions of power tend to make policy decisions based on intuition and common sense—presumptions that we as psychologists recognize are often in error.”

“What’s really needed is an evidence-informed model of criminal justice,” he says. “And a lot of that evidence can come from psychologists.”

Psychological research in action

In 2015, President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing reviewed scientific data on policing, recommending major policy changes at the federal level to improve oversight, training, officer wellness and more (Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, 2015).

Federal efforts have slowed in recent years, with most changes happening at the local level. But with around 18,000 police departments nationwide, that response has been fragmented and inconsistent (National Sources of Law Enforcement Employment Data, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2016).

Still, psychologists have forged ahead with efforts that are making a difference. One key contribution involves spurring policy changes and interventions based on psychological insights.

“One of the most influential approaches coming from psychology is training in procedurally just policing,” says Calvin Lai, PhD, an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.

That approach aims to increase the public’s trust in police by drawing on psychological research on justice and fairness. It involves teaching officers strategies such as explaining to citizens why they’ve been stopped and how it will benefit public safety (Principles of Procedurally Just Policing, The Justice Collaboratory at Yale Law School, 2018).

“We know that the policing model of using force to compel compliance lowers the crime rate but does not build trust,” says Tyler, who has developed and studied models of procedurally just policing. “The crime rate has declined about 75% in the last 30 years, but public trust in the police hasn’t increased at all.”

His research has shown that what community members really want is for police to treat them with respect and to give them a voice—a chance to explain their situation before action is taken. People also want to know that police are sincere, care about the well-being of their community, and act in an unbiased and consistent way—for example, by explaining the rules they use and how they’re applying them.

A study in Seattle randomly assigned officers to receive training in procedurally just policing, leading to a reduction in use of force of between 15% and 40%, depending on the situation (Owens, E., et al., Criminology & Public Policy, Vol. 17, No. 1, 2018).

“It seems to be doing what we’d hope in terms of promoting better relationships between police officers and community members,” says Lai.

The Center for Policing Equity (CPE), led by psychologist Phillip Atiba Goff, PhD, of Yale University, has also led a number of psychology-driven policy changes in police departments around the country. In an effort to cut down on high-adrenaline encounters—where police officers are more likely to rely on stereotypes—Goff urged the Las Vegas Police Department to bar officers involved in a foot pursuit from handling suspects when the chase ends. The policy led to a 23% drop in use of force at the department, an 11% reduction in officer injury and a simultaneous drop in racial disparities in use of force data. CPE has also pioneered efforts to recruit racially and ethnically diverse officer candidates and to make immigration enforcement more consistent.

Another key area that psychological interventions target is implicit bias, which has been documented across a range of domains and populations (State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review, Kirwan Institute, 2017). One study led by Jennifer Eberhardt, PhD, professor of psychology at Stanford University, reviewed body camera footage and found that police officers in Oakland, California, treated Black people with less respect than whites (Voigt, R., et al., PNAS, Vol. 114, No. 25, 2017).

Eberhardt and others, including Lorie Fridell, PhD, a professor of criminology at the University of South Florida, have designed and begun to deliver training programs on implicit bias to law enforcement agencies around the country (“Producing Bias-Free Policing: A Science-Based Approach,” Springer Publishing, 2017).

Those programs, which typically mix instruction, discussion and role-playing, aim to help agencies reduce high-discretion policing and hold officers accountable for biased practices. But there’s no standardized curriculum—and experts say more research is needed to determine whether implicit bias training has a lasting impact and how such training can work alongside other agency reform efforts.

“There seem to be some forms of training that are effective, but the studies on these interventions are still pretty limited,” says Lai. “We just don’t know that much one way or the other.”

The power of peer intervention

Another intervention that has shown promise for reducing violence among police is known as Project ABLE, or Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement. Based on the work of psychologist Ervin Staub, PhD, an emeritus professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and past president of APA’s Div. 48 (Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict and Violence), the program promotes a culture of peer intervention. It teaches officers to prevent their peers from perpetrating unnecessary violence, which can save both lives and careers. Developed by the New Orleans Police Department in 2014 and originally named Ethical Policing Is Courageous (EPIC), Project ABLE is now being adopted by all police departments in New Hampshire and Washington state, as well as those in Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, several other cities and the FBI National Academy.

When an officer commits an act of unnecessary violence, his colleagues face a tough choice, Dvoskin says. Report the act and get a reputation as a “rat”—which may mean your next call for backup goes unanswered—or lie, which is a crime.

“What if, instead, you can prevent the bad thing from happening in the first place?” he says. “What if you manifested your loyalty to a fellow officer by helping him or her stay out of trouble?”

Staub says minor interventions can be highly effective. During recent protests of confederate monuments in New Orleans, an officer stopped a peer from attacking demonstrators by putting an arm around his shoulder. Trainees also apply strategies taught by the program to themselves. One officer in New Orleans reported using EPIC to avoid retaliating against a protester who had spit in her face.

That sort of behavior requires culture change. Police officers need to get comfortable both giving and receiving such interventions—and that culture must be modeled and supported by the highest levels of leadership within an organization, Dvoskin says.

To test his model of active bystandership, Staub studied examples of group violence, such as genocide, observing how hostility and violence evolve progressively. He has also conducted experimental research to understand how people respond to emergencies depending on the actions of those around them. In one study, participants’ helping behavior in response to a simulated emergency ranged from 25% to 100% of the time depending on a confederate’s response to the emergency. He also found that those who are asked to help once are more likely to volunteer later (Staub, E., “The Roots of Goodness and Resistance to Evil,” Oxford University Press, 2015).

Now, Project ABLE has support from Georgetown University and the international law firm Sheppard Mullin, which will help fund free training in active bystandership for any interested U.S. police department—and they’ve had hundreds of inquiries since June. Dvoskin, Staub and their team are now working to standardize lesson plans and policy guidelines.

“If this training is introduced in many police departments and done effectively, I believe that policing in America will be transformed,” Staub says.

Understanding and changing officer behavior

Psychologists are also helping agencies collect, report and understand data on their officers’ behavior—data that can point to further policy changes to reduce unnecessary violence and racial bias.

Simply changing the definition of a “police stop,” for instance, can help identify patterns of racial profiling that might otherwise be missed, says social psychologist Jack Glaser, PhD, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy. Glaser has advised the California attorney general’s office on how to collect policing data, including revising the regulations on police stop reporting.

“Some police-civilian encounters are very casual and are not typically recognized as stops—but they are done with investigatory intent and can escalate to a detention,” he says.

For example, a pedestrian might voluntarily speak with a police officer who says, “Hi, can I ask you a question?”—but that conversation could lead to a search and even an arrest. Those stops typically aren’t reported, so racial bias in such practices could go unchecked.

Glaser has also partnered with CPE for a nationwide effort to aggregate data on police behavior with the National Justice Database, which draws from nearly 100 police departments representing more than a third of the U.S. population. He has worked to standardize and harmonize that data—which includes hundreds of thousands of entries on police stops, searches and use of force and can vary a lot from one agency to the next—so that researchers can start making comparisons and looking for larger trends.

Glaser says reporting officer behavioral data in different ways can paint a very different picture about whether racial disparities exist—so it’s important to get it right. For example, some departments consider officer presence or unholstering a weapon instances of police use of force, while others do not.

Goff, Glaser and their team delved into police use of force data to explore why some researchers, such as economist Roland Fryer, PhD, of Harvard University, have reported no racial differences in officer-involved shootings (Fryer, R.G., Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 127, No. 3, 2019). Their preliminary analysis shows that racial disparities may not exist in all officer-involved shootings, but that there’s a clear bias against African Americans when the victim is unarmed.

“Given that the protest movement is overwhelmingly about unarmed people getting killed by police, that seems to be the most important data point—but it seems to be getting lost,” Glaser says.

One major takeaway from the National Justice Database so far is that police are more likely to display racial bias when they conduct a “high-discretion search”—usually done on a hunch in ambiguous circumstances—versus a “low-discretion search,” a more routine activity, for instance when a person has already been detained for a crime. When the California Highway Patrol banned high-discretion searches, racial disparities began to level off (Racial & Identity Profiling Advisory Board Annual Report, 2020).

“The obvious implication there is to try and minimize high-discretion searches,” Glaser says. “The tremendous amount of discretion given to police promotes decision-making under ambiguity and uncertainty, which psychologists know is ripe for stereotype influence.”

Screening officer candidates

Other psychologists have worked to adapt the police selection process to address the issue of implicit bias. Portland-based forensic psychologist David Corey, PhD, ABPP, has urged departments to add “cultural competence” as a criterion for screening law enforcement officers. “On the surface, the implicit bias literature is dismally depressing, because it tells us that everybody has automatic stereotypes that operate unconsciously and affect behavior,” says Corey, who also founded the American Board of Police and Public Safety Psychology.

Because of measurement issues, it’s not practical to screen candidates for policing jobs based on their implicit biases. But studies show that some personality dimensions can help officers temper those biases (Ben-Porath, Y.S., “Interpreting the MMPI-2-RF,” University of Minnesota Press, 2012). Specifically, people high in executive functioning, emotional regulation skills and metacognitive abilities are better able to prevent implicit biases from affecting their behavior. A capacity for theory of mind formation—the ability to anticipate how others will behave based on their actions or tone of voice—also helps officers learn to bypass their initial instincts.

“Those competencies render implicit bias more malleable,” says Corey. “So, my focus, and that of a growing number of colleagues around the country, is to evaluate applicants for those qualities.”

The Portland Police Bureau, as well as several other agencies in the Pacific Northwest, have added such measures to their selection battery.

Answering more questions

Looking ahead, psychologists are working to address gaps in the data in crucial areas such as use of force, says Shauna Laughna, PhD, ABPP, a Florida-based police and public safety psychologist and chair of APA Div. 18’s Police and Public Safety section. She adds that recruitment, training, discipline and retention of personnel can vary greatly across the 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States. That points to a need for more data, standardized measures—for instance, what constitutes excessive use of force—and a comprehensive national database on policing incidents.

“Attempting to generalize from data gathered at one agency to another may not always be prudent,” she says.

As reform efforts continue at the local and state levels, there’s one other essential thing the field can do, says Colby Mills, PhD, a clinical psychologist who works with the Fairfax County Police Department in Virginia: Provide more formal training opportunities for police psychologists, including during graduate school and in the form of continuing education. The limited police psychology coursework currently available within forensic psychology programs often does not include adequate training on the culture, ethics and special skills required to do such work, he says.

“It takes a lot of courage for a police officer to reach out to a mental health professional, because of the stigmas and the pressures they experience,” Mills says. “But once they do it, we owe it to them to provide a qualified professional who knows what they face and understands their culture.”

Critical incident response

In addition to their involvement with department-wide training efforts, psychologists are also increasingly providing ongoing mental health services, for instance after an officer-involved shooting occurs, says Colby Mills, PhD, a clinical psychologist who contracts with the Fairfax County Police Department in Virginia.

Along with peer support officers and the station’s police chaplain, Mills deploys immediately after a critical incident occurs and delivers Stress First Aid, a model developed for the military that can support officers in processing emotions (Stress First Aid for Law Enforcement, National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, 2016).

“We want to strike a balance where we offer support without implying that an officer will automatically need help to recover,” Mills says.

The Fairfax County Police Department works with about a dozen psychologists who provide critical incident response, therapy, psychoeducation, consultations and pre-employment screenings.

“In general, police and public safety agencies are starting to embrace these sorts of psychological services more and more,” Mills says.

Further reading

A Meta-Analysis of Procedures to Change Implicit Measures
Forscher, P.S., et al. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2019

The Science of Justice: Race, Arrests and Police Use of Force
Goff, P.A., et al. Center for Policing Equity, 2016

Preventing Violence and Promoting Active Bystandership and Peace: My Life in Research and Applications
Staub, E., Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 2018

, which has been documented across a range of domains and populations (State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review, Kirwan Institute, 2017). One study led by Jennifer Eberhardt, PhD, professor of psychology at Stanford University, reviewed body camera footage and found that police officers in Oakland, California, treated Black people with less respect than whites (Voigt, R., et al., PNAS, Vol. 114, No. 25, 2017).

Eberhardt and others, including Lorie Fridell, PhD, a professor of criminology at the University of South Florida, have designed and begun to deliver training programs on implicit bias to law enforcement agencies around the country (“Producing Bias-Free Policing: A Science-Based Approach,” Springer Publishing, 2017).

Those programs, which typically mix instruction, discussion and role-playing, aim to help agencies reduce high-discretion policing and hold officers accountable for biased practices. But there’s no standardized curriculum—and experts say more research is needed to determine whether implicit bias training has a lasting impact and how such training can work alongside other agency reform efforts.

“There seem to be some forms of training that are effective, but the studies on these interventions are still pretty limited,” says Lai. “We just don’t know that much one way or the other.”

The power of peer intervention

Another intervention that has shown promise for reducing violence among police is known as Project ABLE, or Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement. Based on the work of psychologist Ervin Staub, PhD, an emeritus professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and past president of APA’s Div. 48 (Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict and Violence), the program promotes a culture of peer intervention. It teaches officers to prevent their peers from perpetrating unnecessary violence, which can save both lives and careers. Developed by the New Orleans Police Department in 2014 and originally named Ethical Policing Is Courageous (EPIC), Project ABLE is now being adopted by all police departments in New Hampshire and Washington state, as well as those in Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, several other cities and the FBI National Academy.

When an officer commits an act of unnecessary violence, his colleagues face a tough choice, Dvoskin says. Report the act and get a reputation as a “rat”—which may mean your next call for backup goes unanswered—or lie, which is a crime.

“What if, instead, you can prevent the bad thing from happening in the first place?” he says. “What if you manifested your loyalty to a fellow officer by helping him or her stay out of trouble?”

Staub says minor interventions can be highly effective. During recent protests of confederate monuments in New Orleans, an officer stopped a peer from attacking demonstrators by putting an arm around his shoulder. Trainees also apply strategies taught by the program to themselves. One officer in New Orleans reported using EPIC to avoid retaliating against a protester who had spit in her face.

That sort of behavior requires culture change. Police officers need to get comfortable both giving and receiving such interventions—and that culture must be modeled and supported by the highest levels of leadership within an organization, Dvoskin says.

To test his model of active bystandership, Staub studied examples of group violence, such as genocide, observing how hostility and violence evolve progressively. He has also conducted experimental research to understand how people respond to emergencies depending on the actions of those around them. In one study, participants’ helping behavior in response to a simulated emergency ranged from 25% to 100% of the time depending on a confederate’s response to the emergency. He also found that those who are asked to help once are more likely to volunteer later (Staub, E., “The Roots of Goodness and Resistance to Evil,” Oxford University Press, 2015).

Now, Project ABLE has support from Georgetown University and the international law firm Sheppard Mullin, which will help fund free training in active bystandership for any interested U.S. police department—and they’ve had hundreds of inquiries since June. Dvoskin, Staub and their team are now working to standardize lesson plans and policy guidelines.

“If this training is introduced in many police departments and done effectively, I believe that policing in America will be transformed,” Staub says.

Understanding and changing officer behavior

Psychologists are also helping agencies collect, report and understand data on their officers’ behavior—data that can point to further policy changes to reduce unnecessary violence and racial bias.

Simply changing the definition of a “police stop,” for instance, can help identify patterns of racial profiling that might otherwise be missed, says social psychologist Jack Glaser, PhD, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy. Glaser has advised the California attorney general’s office on how to collect policing data, including revising the regulations on police stop reporting.

“Some police-civilian encounters are very casual and are not typically recognized as stops—but they are done with investigatory intent and can escalate to a detention,” he says.

For example, a pedestrian might voluntarily speak with a police officer who says, “Hi, can I ask you a question?”—but that conversation could lead to a search and even an arrest. Those stops typically aren’t reported, so racial bias in such practices could go unchecked.

Glaser has also partnered with CPE for a nationwide effort to aggregate data on police behavior with the National Justice Database, which draws from nearly 100 police departments representing more than a third of the U.S. population. He has worked to standardize and harmonize that data—which includes hundreds of thousands of entries on police stops, searches and use of force and can vary a lot from one agency to the next—so that researchers can start making comparisons and looking for larger trends.

Glaser says reporting officer behavioral data in different ways can paint a very different picture about whether racial disparities exist—so it’s important to get it right. For example, some departments consider officer presence or unholstering a weapon instances of police use of force, while others do not.

Goff, Glaser and their team delved into police use of force data to explore why some researchers, such as economist Roland Fryer, PhD, of Harvard University, have reported no racial differences in officer-involved shootings (Fryer, R.G., Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 127, No. 3, 2019). Their preliminary analysis shows that racial disparities may not exist in all officer-involved shootings, but that there’s a clear bias against African Americans when the victim is unarmed.

“Given that the protest movement is overwhelmingly about unarmed people getting killed by police, that seems to be the most important data point—but it seems to be getting lost,” Glaser says.

One major takeaway from the National Justice Database so far is that police are more likely to display racial bias when they conduct a “high-discretion search”—usually done on a hunch in ambiguous circumstances—versus a “low-discretion search,” a more routine activity, for instance when a person has already been detained for a crime. When the California Highway Patrol banned high-discretion searches, racial disparities began to level off (Racial & Identity Profiling Advisory Board Annual Report, 2020).

“The obvious implication there is to try and minimize high-discretion searches,” Glaser says. “The tremendous amount of discretion given to police promotes decision-making under ambiguity and uncertainty, which psychologists know is ripe for stereotype influence.”

Screening officer candidates

Other psychologists have worked to adapt the police selection process to address the issue of implicit bias. Portland-based forensic psychologist David Corey, PhD, ABPP, has urged departments to add “cultural competence” as a criterion for screening law enforcement officers. “On the surface, the implicit bias literature is dismally depressing, because it tells us that everybody has automatic stereotypes that operate unconsciously and affect behavior,” says Corey, who also founded the American Board of Police and Public Safety Psychology.

Because of measurement issues, it’s not practical to screen candidates for policing jobs based on their implicit biases. But studies show that some personality dimensions can help officers temper those biases (Ben-Porath, Y.S., “Interpreting the MMPI-2-RF,” University of Minnesota Press, 2012). Specifically, people high in executive functioning, emotional regulation skills and metacognitive abilities are better able to prevent implicit biases from affecting their behavior. A capacity for theory of mind formation—the ability to anticipate how others will behave based on their actions or tone of voice—also helps officers learn to bypass their initial instincts.

“Those competencies render implicit bias more malleable,” says Corey. “So, my focus, and that of a growing number of colleagues around the country, is to evaluate applicants for those qualities.”

The Portland Police Bureau, as well as several other agencies in the Pacific Northwest, have added such measures to their selection battery.

Answering more questions

Looking ahead, psychologists are working to address gaps in the data in crucial areas such as use of force, says Shauna Laughna, PhD, ABPP, a Florida-based police and public safety psychologist and chair of APA Div. 18’s Police and Public Safety section. She adds that recruitment, training, discipline and retention of personnel can vary greatly across the 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States. That points to a need for more data, standardized measures—for instance, what constitutes excessive use of force—and a comprehensive national database on policing incidents.

“Attempting to generalize from data gathered at one agency to another may not always be prudent,” she says.

As reform efforts continue at the local and state levels, there’s one other essential thing the field can do, says Colby Mills, PhD, a clinical psychologist who works with the Fairfax County Police Department in Virginia: Provide more formal training opportunities for police psychologists, including during graduate school and in the form of continuing education. The limited police psychology coursework currently available within forensic psychology programs often does not include adequate training on the culture, ethics and special skills required to do such work, he says.

“It takes a lot of courage for a police officer to reach out to a mental health professional, because of the stigmas and the pressures they experience,” Mills says. “But once they do it, we owe it to them to provide a qualified professional who knows what they face and understands their culture.”

Critical incident response

In addition to their involvement with department-wide training efforts, psychologists are also increasingly providing ongoing mental health services, for instance after an officer-involved shooting occurs, says Colby Mills, PhD, a clinical psychologist who contracts with the Fairfax County Police Department in Virginia.

Along with peer support officers and the station’s police chaplain, Mills deploys immediately after a critical incident occurs and delivers Stress First Aid, a model developed for the military that can support officers in processing emotions (Stress First Aid for Law Enforcement, National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, 2016).

“We want to strike a balance where we offer support without implying that an officer will automatically need help to recover,” Mills says.

The Fairfax County Police Department works with about a dozen psychologists who provide critical incident response, therapy, psychoeducation, consultations and pre-employment screenings.

“In general, police and public safety agencies are starting to embrace these sorts of psychological services more and more,” Mills says.

Further reading

A Meta-Analysis of Procedures to Change Implicit Measures
Forscher, P.S., et al. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2019

The Science of Justice: Race, Arrests and Police Use of Force
Goff, P.A., et al. Center for Policing Equity, 2016

Preventing Violence and Promoting Active Bystandership and Peace: My Life in Research and Applications
Staub, E., Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 2018

I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup

Later, it comes out that the beloved nobleman did not in fact kill his good-for-nothing brother. The good-for-nothing brother killed the beloved nobleman (and stole his identity). Now the townspeople want to see him lynched or burned alive, and it is only the priest who – consistently – offers a measured forgiveness conditional on penance and self-reflection.

The priest tells them:

It seems to me that you only pardon the sins that you don’t really think sinful. You only forgive criminals when they commit what you don’t regard as crimes, but rather as conventions. You forgive a conventional duel just as you forgive a conventional divorce. You forgive because there isn’t anything to be forgiven.

.. He further notes that this is why the townspeople can self-righteously consider themselves more compassionate and forgiving than he is. Actual forgiveness, the kind the priest needs to cultivate to forgive evildoers, is really really hard. The fake forgiveness the townspeople use to forgive the people they like is really easy, so they get to boast not only of their forgiving nature, but of how much nicer they are than those mean old priests who find forgiveness difficult and want penance along with it.

.. There are a lot of people who say “I forgive you” when they mean “No harm done”, and a lot of people who say “That was unforgiveable” when they mean “That was genuinely really bad”.

.. But since forgiveness is generally considered a virtue, and one that many want credit for having, I think it’s fair to say you only earn the right to call yourself ‘forgiving’ if you forgive things that genuinely hurt you.

.. To borrow Chesterton’s example, if you think divorce is a-ok, then you don’t get to “forgive” people their divorces, you merely ignore them.

..  “Master, I have been tolerant of innumerable gays, lesbians, bisexuals, asexuals, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, transgender people, and Jews. How many Virtue Points have I earned for my meritorious deeds?”

Bodhidharma answers: “None at all”.

The Emperor, somewhat put out, demands to know why.

Bodhidharma asks: “Well, what do you think of gay people?”

The Emperor answers: “What do you think I am, some kind of homophobic bigot? Of course I have nothing against gay people!”

And Bodhidharma answers: “Thus do you gain no merit by tolerating them!”

.. If I had to define “tolerance” it would be something like “respect and kindness toward members of an outgroup”.

.. We have a lot of people – like the Emperor – boasting of being able to tolerate everyone from every outgroup they can imagine, loving the outgroup, writing long paeans to how great the outgroup is, staying up at night fretting that somebody else might not like the outgroup enough.

This is really surprising. It’s a total reversal of everything we know about human psychology up to this point. No one did any genetic engineering. No one passed out weird glowing pills in the public schools. And yet suddenly we get an entire group of people who conspicuously promote and defend their outgroups, the outer the better.

..  Any theory of outgroupishness that naively assumes the Nazis’ natural outgroup is Japanese or Chinese people will be totally inadequate.

.. So what makes an outgroup? Proximity plus small differences.

.. If you want to know who someone in former Yugoslavia hates, don’t look at the Indonesians or the Zulus or the Tibetans or anyone else distant and exotic. Find the Yugoslavian ethnicity that lives closely intermingled with them and is most conspicuously similar to them, and chances are you’ll find the one who they have eight hundred years of seething hatred toward.

.. eight hundred years of the British committing genocide against the Irish and considering them literally subhuman turned into smiles and songs about shamrocks once the Irish started looking like useful cannon fodder for a larger fight.

.. outgroups may be the people who look exactly like you, and scary foreigner types can become the in-group on a moment’s notice when it seems convenient.

..  46% of Americans are creationists. Not just in the sense of believing God helped guide evolution. I mean they think evolution is a vile atheist lie and God created humans exactly as they exist right now. That’s half the country.

.. And I don’t have a single one of those people in my social circle.

.. About forty percent of Americans want to ban gay marriage. I think if I really stretch it, maybe ten of my top hundred fifty friends might fall into this group. This is less astronomically unlikely; the odds are a mere one to one hundred quintillion against.

.. there was a thread on Reddit asking – Redditors Against Gay Marriage, What Is Your Best Supporting Argument? A Reddit user who didn’t understand how anybody could be against gay marriage honestly wanted to know how other people who were against it justified their position. He figured he might as well ask one of the largest sites on the Internet, with an estimated user base in the tens of millions.

It soon became clear that nobody there was actually against gay marriage.

.. In a thread with 10,401 comments, a thread specifically asking for people against gay marriage, I was eventually able to find two people who came out and opposed it, way near the bottom. Their posts started with “I know I’m going to be downvoted to hell for this…”

.. Only one percent of LWers were normal everyday God-‘n-guns-but-not-George-III conservatives of the type that seem to make up about half of the United States.

.. similar to other elite universities, had a faculty and a student body that skewed about 90-10 liberal to conservative – and we can bet that, like LW, even those few token conservatives are Mitt Romney types rather than God-n’-guns types. I get my news from vox.com, an Official Liberal Approved Site. Even when I go out to eat, it turns out my favorite restaurant, California Pizza Kitchen, is the most liberal restaurant in the United States.

.. I have created an outrageously strong bubble, a 10^45 bubble. Conservatives are all around me, yet I am about as likely to have a serious encounter with one as I am a Tibetan lama.

(Less likely, actually. One time a Tibetan lama came to my college and gave a really nice presentation, but if a conservative tried that, people would protest and it would be canceled.)

.. One day I realized that entirely by accident I was fulfilling all the Jewish stereotypes.

I’m nerdy, over-educated, good with words, good with money, weird sense of humor, don’t get outside much, I like deli sandwiches. And I’m a psychiatrist, which is about the most stereotypically Jewish profession short of maybe stand-up comedian or rabbi.

I’m not very religious. And I don’t go to synagogue. But that’s stereotypically Jewish too!

.. The defining factors of Judaism – Torah-reading, synagogue-following, mother-having – are the tip of a giant iceberg. Jews sometimes identify as a “tribe”, and even if you don’t attend synagogue, you’re still a member of that tribe and people can still (in a statistical way) infer things about you by knowing your Jewish identity – like how likely they are to be psychiatrists.

.. The Red Tribe is most classically typified by conservative political beliefs, strong evangelical religious beliefs, creationism, opposing gay marriage, owning guns, eating steak, drinking Coca-Cola, driving SUVs, watching lots of TV, enjoying American football, getting conspicuously upset about terrorists and commies, marrying early, divorcing early, shouting “USA IS NUMBER ONE!!!”, and listening to country music.

.. The Blue Tribe is most classically typified by liberal political beliefs, vague agnosticism, supporting gay rights, thinking guns are barbaric, eating arugula, drinking fancy bottled water, driving Priuses, reading lots of books, being highly educated, mocking American football, feeling vaguely like they should like soccer but never really being able to get into it, getting conspicuously upset about sexists and bigots, marrying later, constantly pointing out how much more civilized European countries are than America, and listening to “everything except country”.

.. (There is a partly-formed attempt to spin off a Grey Tribe typified by libertarian political beliefs, Dawkins-style atheism, vague annoyance that the question of gay rights even comes up, eating paleo, drinking Soylent, calling in rides on Uber, reading lots of blogs, calling American football “sportsball”, getting conspicuously upset about the War on Drugs and the NSA, and listening to filk – but for our current purposes this is a distraction and they can safely be considered part of the Blue Tribe most of the time)

.. And I genuinely believed that day that I had found some unexpected good in people – that everyone I knew was so humane and compassionate that they were unable to rejoice even in the death of someone who hated them and everything they stood for.

.. Then a few years later, Margaret Thatcher died. And on my Facebook wall – made of these same “intelligent, reasoned, and thoughtful” people – the most common response was to quote some portion of the song “Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead”.

.. You can talk all you want about Islamophobia, but my friend’s “intelligent, reasoned, and thoughtful people” – her name for the Blue Tribe – can’t get together enough energy to really hate Osama, let alone Muslims in general. We understand that what he did was bad, but it didn’t anger us personally. When he died, we were able to very rationally apply our better nature and our Far Mode beliefs about how it’s never right to be happy about anyone else’s death.

On the other hand, that same group absolutely loathed Thatcher. Most of us (though not all) can agree, if the question is posed explicitly, that Osama was a worse person than Thatcher. But in terms of actual gut feeling? Osama provokes a snap judgment of “flawed human being”, Thatcher a snap judgment of “scum”.

.. I started this essay by pointing out that, despite what geographical and cultural distance would suggest, the Nazis’ outgroup was not the vastly different Japanese, but the almost-identical German Jews.

And my hypothesis, stated plainly, is that if you’re part of the Blue Tribe, then your outgroup isn’t al-Qaeda, or Muslims, or blacks, or gays, or transpeople, or Jews, or atheists – it’s the Red Tribe.

.. One of the ways we know that racism is a giant all-encompassing social factor is the Implicit Association Test. Psychologists ask subjects to quickly identify whether words or photos are members of certain gerrymandered categories, like “either a white person’s face or a positive emotion” or “either a black person’s face and a negative emotion”.

.. If subjects have more trouble (as measured in latency time) connecting white people to negative things than they do white people to positive things, then they probably have subconscious positive associations with white people.

.. what the test famously found was that even white people who claimed to have no racist attitudes at all usually had positive associations with white people and negative associations with black people on the test.

.. there have been several studies where people sent out a bunch of identical resumes except sometimes with a black person’s photo and other times with a white person’s photo, and it was noticed that employers were much more likely to invite the fictional white candidates for interviews.

.. Once again, discrimination on the basis of party was much stronger than discrimination on the basis of race.

.. People have been studying “belief congruence theory” – the idea that differences in beliefs are more important than demographic factors in forming in-groups and outgroups – for decades.

.. people were more likely to accept friendships across racial lines than across beliefs

.. One of the best-known examples of racism is the “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” scenario where parents are scandalized about their child marrying someone of a different race. Pew has done some good work on this and found that only 23% of conservatives and 1% (!) of liberals admit they would be upset in this situation. But Pew also asked how parents would feel about their child marrying someone of a different political party. Now 30% of conservatives and 23% of liberals would get upset.

.. I’m not saying people of either party have it “worse” than black people, or that partyism is more of a problem than racism, or any of a number of stupid things along those lines which I am sure I will nevertheless be accused of believing. Racism is worse than partyism because the two parties are at least kind of balanced in numbers and in resources, whereas the brunt of an entire country’s racism falls on a few underprivileged people.

.. Every election cycle like clockwork, conservatives accuse liberals of not being sufficiently pro-America. And every election cycle like clockwork, liberals give extremely unconvincing denials of this.

.. My hunch – both the Red Tribe and the Blue Tribe, for whatever reason, identify “America” with the Red Tribe. Ask people for typically “American” things, and you end up with a very Red list of characteristics – guns, religion, barbecues, American football, NASCAR, cowboys, SUVs, unrestrained capitalism.

.. That means the Red Tribe feels intensely patriotic about “their” country, and the Blue Tribe feels like they’re living in fortified enclaves deep in hostile territory.

.. Here is a popular piece published on a major media site called America: A Big, Fat, Stupid Nation. Another: America: A Bunch Of Spoiled, Whiny Brats. Americans are ignorant, scientifically illiterate religious fanatics whose “patriotism” is actually just narcissism. You Will Be Shocked At How Ignorant Americans Are, and we should Blame The Childish, Ignorant American People.

Needless to say, every single one of these articles was written by an American and read almost entirely by Americans. Those Americans very likely enjoyed the articles very much and did not feel the least bit insulted.

.. But I think the situation with “white” is much the same as the situation with “American” – it can either mean what it says, or be a code word for the Red Tribe.

.. Imagine hearing that a liberal talk show host and comedian was so enraged by the actions of ISIS that he’d recorded and posted a video in which he shouts at them for ten minutes, cursing the “fanatical terrorists” and calling them “utter savages” with “savage values”.

If I heard that, I’d be kind of surprised. It doesn’t fit my model of what liberal talk show hosts do.

.. That fits my model perfectly. You wouldn’t celebrate Osama’s death, only Thatcher’s. And you wouldn’t call ISIS savages, only Fox News. Fox is the outgroup, ISIS is just some random people off in a desert. You hate the outgroup, you don’t hate random desert people.

.. Not only does Brand not feel much like hating ISIS, he has a strong incentive not to. That incentive is: the Red Tribe is known to hate ISIS loudly and conspicuously. Hating ISIS would signal Red Tribe membership, would be the equivalent of going into Crips territory with a big Bloods gang sign tattooed on your shoulder.

.. What would Russell Brand answer, if we asked him to justify his decision to be much angrier at Fox than ISIS?

He might say something like “Obviously Fox News is not literally worse than ISIS. But here I am, talking to my audience, who are mostly white British people and Americans. These people already know that ISIS is bad; they don’t need to be told that any further. In fact, at this point being angry about how bad ISIS is, is less likely to genuinely change someone’s mind about ISIS, and more likely to promote Islamophobia. The sort of people in my audience are at zero risk of becoming ISIS supporters, but at a very real risk of Islamophobia. So ranting against ISIS would be counterproductive and dangerous.

.. So here’s somewhere I have a genuine chance to reach people at risk and change minds. Therefore, I think my decision to rant against Fox News, and maybe hyperbolically say they were ‘worse than ISIS’ is justified under the circumstances.”

.. But my sympathy with Brand ends when he acts like his audience is likely to be fans of Fox News.

.. In a world where a negligible number of Redditors oppose gay marriage and 1% of Less Wrongers identify conservative and I know 0/150 creationists, how many of the people who visit the YouTube channel of a well-known liberal activist with a Che-inspired banner, a channel whose episode names are things like “War: What Is It Good For?” and “Sarah Silverman Talks Feminism” – how many of them do you think are big Fox News fans?

.. If he attacked ISIS, his viewers would just be a little confused and uncomfortable. Whereas every moment he’s attacking Fox his viewers are like “HA HA! YEAH! GET ‘EM! SHOW THOSE IGNORANT BIGOTS IN THE OUTGROUP WHO’S BOSS!”

.. Brand acts as if there are just these countries called “Britain” and “America” who are receiving his material. Wrong. There are two parallel universes, and he’s only broadcasting to one of them.

.. Think of Brendan Eich as a member of a tiny religious minority surrounded by people who hate that minority. Suddenly firing him doesn’t seem very noble.

.. If you mix together Podunk, Texas and Mosul, Iraq, you can prove that Muslims are scary and very powerful people who are executing Christians all the time – and so we have a great excuse for kicking the one remaining Muslim family, random people who never hurt anyone, out of town.

.. When a friend of mine heard Eich got fired, she didn’t see anything wrong with it. “I can tolerate anything except intolerance,” she said.

“Intolerance” is starting to look like another one of those words like “white” and “American”.

“I can tolerate anything except the outgroup.” Doesn’t sound quite so noble now, does it?

.. The outgroup of the Red Tribe is occasionally blacks and gays and Muslims, more often the Blue Tribe.

.. The Blue Tribe has performed some kind of very impressive act of alchemy, and transmuted all of its outgroup hatred to the Red Tribe.

.. Even the Nazis, not known for their ethnic tolerance, were able to get all buddy-buddy with the Japanese when they had a common cause.

.. Research suggests Blue Tribe / Red Tribe prejudice to be much stronger than better-known types of prejudice like racism. Once the Blue Tribe was able to enlist the blacks and gays and Muslims in their ranks, they became allies of convenience who deserve to be rehabilitated with mildly condescending paeans to their virtue. “There never was a coward where the shamrock grows.”

.. Spending your entire life insulting the other tribe and talking about how terrible they are makes you look, well, tribalistic. It is definitely not high class. So when members of the Blue Tribe decide to dedicate their entire life to yelling about how terrible the Red Tribe is, they make sure that instead of saying “the Red Tribe”, they say “America”, or “white people”, or “straight white men”. That way it’s humble self-criticism. They are so interested in justice that they are willing to critique their own beloved side, much as it pains them to do so.

.. every Blue Tribe institution is permanently licensed to take whatever emergency measures are necessary against the Red Tribe, however disturbing they might otherwise seem.

.. I had fun writing this article. People do not have fun writing articles savagely criticizing their in-group. People can criticize their in-group, it’s not humanly impossible, but it takes nerves of steel, it makes your blood boil, you should sweat blood. It shouldn’t be fun.

.. I imagine might I feel like some liberal US Muslim leader, when he goes on the O’Reilly Show, and O’Reilly ambushes him and demands to know why he and other American Muslims haven’t condemned beheadings by ISIS more, demands that he criticize them right there on live TV. And you can see the wheels in the Muslim leader’s head turning, thinking something like “Okay, obviously beheadings are terrible and I hate them as much as anyone. But you don’t care even the slightest bit about the victims of beheadings. You’re just looking for a way to score points against me so you can embarass all Muslims. And I would rather personally behead every single person in the world than give a smug bigot like you a single microgram more stupid self-satisfaction than you’ve already got.”

.. But if I want Self-Criticism Virtue Points, criticizing the Grey Tribe is the only honest way to get them. And if I want Tolerance Points, my own personal cross to bear right now is tolerating the Blue Tribe.

..  And when they are good people, they are powerful and necessary crusaders against the evils of the world.

 

Arming teachers would put black and Latino kids in danger

For students of color, guns in classrooms could be deadly.

How long would it be, if Trump’s plan became reality, before a teacher shoots a black student and then invokes the “I feared for my life” defense

.. Most high-profile mass shootings have been committed by white men, but metal detectors, school police and armed guards are disproportionately placed in public schools with majority black and other nonwhite students, along with locked gates, random sweeps, and a host of other surveillance and security measures to maintain control in their schools

.. Research shows that such practices foster hostile environments that have contributed to racial disparities in school suspensions, expulsions and arrests leading to the “school-to-prison pipeline,” by pushing more students of color out of school and into the juvenile justice system.

.. black students were disproportionately likely to be referred to school resource officers or arrested — they made up 16 percent of total enrollment but 27 percent of students referred to resource officers and 31 percent of students arrested in school-related matters.

.. White students, who were 51 percent of the total, accounted for only 41 percent of resource officer referrals and 39 percent of arrests.

.. “implicit bias” on the part of teachers often means young black males in schools are seen as “irresponsible, dishonest and dangerous.”

.. many teachers, especially young white women, are afraid of their black students.

.. white students are punished differently from their black counterparts for the same offenses.

..  “By playing into this armed teacher agenda, we are setting up our at-risk students, especially our black and brown students, as targets for the pipeline as well as actual physical targets of teachers’ bullets. It is insanity driven by greed, prejudice and privilege.”

..  “arming white teachers would be like trying to put out a fire with gasoline. In many cases, the little cultural nuances in black kids are often foreign to white teachers.

.. Black assertiveness is seen as black hostility to white teachers, as opposed to the teachers recognizing that it is a strength in the black student.

.. I fear that when black students stand up for themselves, white teachers will interpret that as the students attacking them.”

.. Davis also fears that any black or Latino teachers who carry weapons to “protect” students would wind up being shot by police during an active-shooter crisis in their schools.

..  Twitter, they used the #ArmMeWith hashtag to list more important priorities:

  1. smaller classrooms,
  2. improved textbooks,
  3. adequate supplies and
  4. more resources for students with challenges.

.. This is about protecting the narrative that white suburban schools are places of safety and preserving the idea that violence is elsewhere, that black and Latino youth represent danger.

.. “My biggest fear and disappointment is that I think many students and families of color would simply opt out of public education if arming teachers were to be enacted,”

.. The fear would be absolutely legitimate, but disengagement would further divide us so much further. It would lead to a setback like never before in the movements for civil rights and human rights.”

Why are people still racist? What science says about America’s race problem.

The truth is that unless parents actively teach kids not to be racists, they will be,” said Jennifer Richeson, a Yale University social psychologist. “This is not the product of some deep-seated, evil heart that is cultivated. It comes from the environment, the air all around us.”

“When you arrive at a new high school. You are instinctively trying to figure out who’s cool, who’s not, who’s a nerd, who gets beat up? Kids quickly acquire these associations,” she said.

.. even with a TV show on mute displaying scenes with no explicit discrimination, the nonverbal body language of black and white actors interacting was enough to cause watchers to test higher for implicit bias afterward.

.. “An us-them mentality is unfortunately a really basic part of our biology,”

.. “There’s a lot of evidence that people have an ingrained even evolved tendency toward people who are in our so-called ‘in group.’”

.. White supremacist groups promote a “siege mentality” among their followers, Knowles said — rhetoric that aims to lend legitimacy to people’s racial and ethnic fears. He pointed to the slogans shouted by participants in the Charlottesville rally: “You will not replace us” and “White Lives Matter.”

.. one thing that these violent ideologies are communicating to people, and people are receptive to, especially people who are struggling, is that whites are actually the ones who are being discriminated against in society,”

.. But to challenge the deep-seated prejudices that shape our behavior, to unlearn our implicit biases, “we need contact,” he said.

.. “It’s absolutely the opposite of what white nationalists want, which is a segregated society,” he said. “We need an integrated society, and at the same time need to create as much socioeconomic fairness as we can

.. “There’s data that shows young groups like millennials are more progressive and egalitarian. But that’s usually on issues like climate change or gay marriage, usually not in their level of implicit bias,”

.. it’s simply not true that we just need to wait for the few old racist men left in the South to die off and then we’ll be fine.

Jeff Atwood: We Hire the Best, Just Like Everyone Else

Most startups, statistically speaking, are going to fail.

And they will fail regardless of whether they hired “the best” due to circumstances largely beyond their control. So in that context does maximizing for the best possible hires really make sense?

Given the risks, I think maybe “hire the nuttiest risk junkie adrenaline addicted has-ideas-so-crazy-they-will-never-work people you can find” might actually be more practical startup advice.

.. If your hiring attitude is that it’s better to be possibly wrong a hundred times so you can be absolutely right one time, you’re going to be primed to throw away a lot of candidates on pretty thin evidence.

.. Perhaps worst of all, if the interview process is predicated on zero doubt, total confidence … maybe this candidate doesn’t feel right because they don’t look like you, dress like you, think like you, speak like you, or come from a similar background as you? Are you accidentally maximizing for hidden bias?

.. One of the best programmers I ever worked with was Susan Warren, an ex-Microsoft engineer who taught me about the People Like Us problem, way back in 2004:

I think there is a real issue around diversity in technology (and most other places in life). I tend to think of it as the PLU problem. Folk (including MVPs) tend to connect best with folks most like them (“People Like Us”). In this case, male MVPs pick other men to become MVPs. It’s just human nature.

 

  • .. Using screens to hide the identity of auditioning musicians increased women’s probability of advancing from preliminary orchestra auditions by fifty percent.
  • Denver police officers and community members were shown rapidly displayed photos of black and white men, some holding guns, some holding harmless objects like wallets, and asked to press either the “Shoot” or “Don’t Shoot” button as fast as they could for each image. Both the police and community members were three times more likely to shoot black men.

.. It’s not intentional, it’s never intentional. That’s the problem. I think our industry needs to shed this old idea that it’s OK, even encouraged to turn away technical candidates for anything less than absolute 100% confidence at every step of the interview process. Because when you do, you are accidentally optimizing for implicit bias. Even as a white guy who probably fulfills every stereotype you can think of about programmers, and who is in fact wearing an “I Rock at Basic” t-shirt while writing this very blog post*, that’s what has always bothered me about it, more than the strictness. If you care at all about diversity in programming and tech, on any level, this hiring approach is not doing anyone any favors, and hasn’t been. For years.

.. I would argue, quite strongly and at some length, that if you want better diversity in the field, perhaps a good starting point is not demanding that all your employees live within a tiny 30 mile radius of San Francisco or Palo Alto. There’s a whole wide world of Internet out there, full of amazing programmers at every level of talent and ability. Maybe broaden your horizons a little, even stretch said horizons outside the United States, if you can imagine such a thing.

.. The most significant shift we’ve made is requiring every final candidate to work with us for three to eight weeks on a contract basis. Candidates do real tasks alongside the people they would actually be working with if they had the job. They can work at night or on weekends, so they don’t have to leave their current jobs; most spend 10 to 20 hours a week working with Automattic, although that’s flexible. (Some people take a week’s vacation in order to focus on the tryout, which is another viable option.) The goal is not to have them finish a product or do a set amount of work; it’s to allow us to quickly and efficiently assess whether this would be a mutually beneficial relationship

The Roots of Implicit Bias

even well-meaning people frequently harbor hidden prejudices against members of other racial groups.

.. Critics of this notion, however, protest what they see as a character smear — a suggestion that everybody, deep down, is racist. Vice President-elect Mike Pence has said that an “accusation of implicit bias” in cases where a white police officer shoots a black civilian serves to “demean law enforcement.” Writing in National Review, David French claimed that the concept of implicit bias lets people “indict entire communities as bigoted.”

.. But implicit bias is not about bigotry per se. As new research from our laboratory suggests, implicit bias is grounded in a basic human tendency to divide the social world into groups. In other words, what may appear as an example of tacit racism may actually be a manifestation of a broader propensity to think in terms of “us versus them” — a prejudice that can apply, say, to fans of a different sports team.

.. But we also found that people could overcome these biased instincts if they engaged in rational deliberation. When people had the chance to reflect on their decision, they were largely unbiased

.. We need not resign ourselves to a future of tribalism. On the contrary, our research suggests that people have the capacity to override their worst instincts

Black Doctor Says Delta Flight Attendant Rejected Her; Sought ‘Actual Physician’

Dr. Cross wrote about the episode in a Facebook post later that day, saying she had put her hand up to help, but was met with the kind of skepticism she had encountered before as a black doctor. A flight attendant demanded her “credentials” and confirmation that she was a real physician.

“She said to me: ‘Oh no, sweetie put ur hand down; we are looking for actual physicians or nurses or some type of medical personnel. We don’t have time to talk to you.’ ”

.. On Friday, Delta Air Lines said in a statement on its website that it was investigating what happened and had reached out to Dr. Cross. The statement said: “Three medical professionals identified themselves on the flight in question. Only one was able to produce documentation of medical training.”

.. “I think minorities in general, especially in my field of practice — I feel that they are always questioned and always assumed to be the nurse or the nurse’s aide or here as part of the janitorial team or ancillary staff,” she said. “Several times I come in the room, I am assumed to be one of the ancillary staff.”

.. Some of the conversations spurred by Dr. Cross’s Facebook post centered on what researchers call implicit bias, or unconscious processing about race. According to the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, implicit bias can affect the decisions jurors make in courts, the assumptions by law enforcement officials about minorities and the relationships between students and teachers, and doctors and patients.

.. Then a white male passenger approached the flight attendant and said he was a physician. According to Dr. Cross, the flight attendant turned to her and said, “Thanks for your help, but he can help us, and he has his credentials.”

On Facebook, Dr. Cross wrote: “Mind you, he hasn’t shown anything to her. Just showed up and fit the ‘description of a doctor.’ ”