Alumna Shares Insights into Race, Policing and What We Don’t See

May 4, 2016

Did you ever think you saw something happen one way, only to realize later that it actually happened a bit differently because you weren’t able to see or process everything that could influence your interpretation?

Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt, A&S ’87, has studied this “change blindness” phenomenon, where an observer doesn’t notice a change in a visual stimulus. Because we are naturally limited in what we perceive, we become limited in our resulting judgments of others. Recognizing that we commonly make judgements or decisions without seeing the whole picture in many aspects of our lives helps us understand why stereotypes and implicit bias exist in our culture.

More than three decades ago, Eberhardt came to UC from Cleveland to study psychology. She followed her 1987 degree with post-graduate work at Harvard, earning her doctorate in 1993. She is currently a psychology professor at Stanford and co-director of SPARQ, a university initiative to create and share social psychological insights with people working to improve society.

Eberhardt returned to UC in April to speak about how these deep-seated issues affect the interactions between law enforcement and many in the African American community. Her discussion, part of the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences Lecture Series, took her audience through research and exercises that shed light on the role of race in the perception of threats of various kinds.

She even shared a story about her son who, at five years of age, saw a black man on a flight they were taking and commented that he “hoped he [the man] didn’t rob the plane.”

“Black-crime association influences how both ordinary citizens and police officers perceive and analyze the people and objects they encounter,” Eberhardt says. “Racial bias has deep roots and broad consequences, yet there are ways we can address it.”

Eberhardt is currently working with the Oakland Police Department as a subject matter expert, reviewing all of their body camera data to study police interactions with African Americans.


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