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Stacey Goguen

I have a possibly embarrassingly-simple question.

Why does the strategic behavior described here not count as a form of implicit bias?:

"researchers can condition their behavior on the type of partner they interact with"

This is a kind of discrimination without bias, but that still revolves around social categories that people fall into? I think I'm missing a step somewhere. Thanks in advance for any help.

Bruno Verbeek

So, suppose that the subjects in this model do not start out differentiating between types *at all*. Then, what is the result? Will there still be bargaining benefits on the part of the majority?
It seems to me that there have to be some initial shocks in the system to differential treatment, before the minority accomodates and the majoritay exploits, right?
So your conclusion stands that, now that we have such type bargaining benefits, here is another mechanism that will add to keep the equilibrium in an 'unfair' state. What you don't have is an explanation as to how come things are the way they are.
(Which is not a criticism at all; this is just what the explanatory force of such evolutionary models amounts to).

Sherri Irvin

I see that the explanation offered here is a direct explanation of discrimination that does not flow through implicit bias. Very interesting stuff.

Strategic learning seems likely also to contribute to implicit bias (and thus, perhaps, to further discrimination that is caused by implicit bias).

Suppose I come to hold this belief and engage in a pattern of behavior that reflects it: "Xs belong to a type such that I don't have to give members of this type as much compensation for their labor as I would have to give to Ys." It seems likely that I will also, over time, come to hold other beliefs that explain why Xs are exploitable in this way -- that Xs are less desirable as collaborators, that the quality of their work is inferior, etc.

Will the resulting implicit bias simply be epiphenomenal, a way of rationalizing the level of discrimination that I am already engaged in? Or will it actually contribute to further discrimination? I tend to think the latter: it is a new factor that further depresses the willingness to pay Xs fairly for their collaboration. I'm interested to hear about what the authors and others have to say about this. (I have read only this blog post and not the paper. Sorry if this point is addressed there.)

Cailin O

Thanks for this, Sherri!

We don't address this possibility in the paper (that patterns of learning could lead to discrimination could lead to implicit bias could lead to further discrimination). It seems pretty plausible to me.

We've found it tricky writing the paper to separate behavior consistent with bias from psychological bias. Obviously these two things can come apart, and our models only represent *behavior*. Understanding the causality between these two things would be a separate (interesting) project.

Justin Bruner

Thanks for the comment, Bruno. Maybe I missed something in your comment, but this paper definitely is an attempt to explain how things come to be ‘the way they are.’ We begin with a mixture of agents, some condition on type while others do not. We then demonstrate that in many cases everyone slowly learns to condition on type and that the minority group is typically discriminated against. The aim is to show not only that minorities can be extremely disadvantaged in a wide class of circumstances, but also how such discriminatory norms can emerge in the first place (and moreover how the population can all come to learn to condition on type). Apologies if this sketch is confusing -- this is all explained more thoroughly in the paper.

That’s a really interesting suggestion, Sherri! I agree that the resulting implicit bias will have additional negative effects, further cementing the agent’s unwillingness to pay Xs fairly, as you put it. I addition to this, though, the new bias against minorities may make it even more likely that discriminatory norms that disadvantage underrepresented groups emerge in other, different bargaining and cooperative contexts. So, the establishment of a discriminatory practice in the workplace that disadvantages underrepresented minorities may make it easier for similar sorts of arrangements to emerge at the home or in the public sphere. This of course is all speculative, but nonetheless worth following-up on!


Dear Stacey,

Your question is very apt. What we mean is that while players condition on types, there is no underlying psychological bias that pushes them to do it one way or another. Players are just as happy demanding more or less of another type, as long as it benefits them to do so.

Then, as we discuss, the players develop to states where one type systematically treats the other in a certain way that is consistent with bias. As Sherri points out this sort of systematic disadvantaging behavior could very well then lead to psychological biases against another type.

Of course, in the real world biases are always at play, so you can't so neatly separate the sort of learned behavior we see from behavior based on psychological biases.

Hope this helps clarify our thinking!


Katinka Quintelier

If this mechanism is at work, would it help (i.e., reduce discrimination) if people were rewarded for behaving fairly? I think, if the agents (OK, the academics) learn to repeat choices that benefit them, and you create an environment were behaving fairly is rewarded, a sufficiently high reward could counteract the benefits from discriminating against a minority, right?

S G Sterrett

I'm wondering how your paper compares with the models of in-group/out-group types that were used in the 70's (and later). One recent one using the in-group/out-group approach seems especially germane: " Evolution of In-Group Favoritism" by Fu et al. Just thought you might like to know of it, if you hadn't already. It is open access: http://www.nature.com/srep/2012/120621/srep00460/full/srep00460.html


Dear Susan - Thanks for the tip! I hadn't seen this paper.

Dear Katinka - Yes, if there is a way to engineer academic environments so that fair behavior is rewarded (or just enforced, if that is possible) you shouldn't see bias of the sort that arises in our models.


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