Lawyer Louise P. Dempsey punctuated her recent lunch-hour talk by passing out sheets of paper with a single riddle: “A father and a son are in a serious automobile accident. The father is taken to University Hospitals and the son is life-flighted to Metro. In the operating room, the surgeon says, ‘I cannot operate on this patient; he is my son.’ How is this possible?”
Some of the listeners gathered at the Union Club in Cleveland were stumped. Others knew the answer: The surgeon is the boy’s mother.
“I didn’t get this riddle the first time, and I consider myself a feminist,” Dempsey said. “And recently, the entire Civil Rights division in Boston saw it, and no one could solve it.”
Dempsey, who serves on the American Bar Association’s Council for Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Educational Pipeline, used the brainteaser to illustrate implicit bias. These are the hidden assumptions people carry that influence their behavior despite their explicit beliefs.
Research shows that people can be committed to egalitarianism, and work to behave without prejudice, but still carry implicit bias that bleeds into behavior. “These biases remain in us as a sort of mental residue,” Dempsey said.
Skeptical? Scientists at Harvard, the University of Virginia and the University of Washington have a little test for you. Measure your implicit bias on race, gender, sexuality, religion, weight, Arabs & Muslims and in several other categories. Each test focuses on one variety of bias and takes about ten minutes online. It can come — as mine did on race — with a corrective slice of humble pie. Find out at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/