Racial Attention Deficit

Levine, Sheen; Reypens, Charlotte; Stark, David C.

Despite concerted efforts towards equity in organizations and elsewhere, minority members report that they are often ignored and their contributions undervalued. Against this backdrop, we conduct a multi-year experimental study to investigate patterns of attention, using a large, gender-balanced sample of White working-age Americans. The findings provide causal evidence of a racial attention deficit: Even when in their best interest, White Americans pay less attention to Black peers. In a baseline study, we assign an incentivized puzzle to participants and examine their willingness to follow the example of their White and Black peers. White participants presume that Black peers are less competent — and fail to learn from their choices. We then test two interventions: Providing information about past accomplishments reduces the disparity in evaluations of Black peers, but the racial attention deficit persists. When Whites can witness the accomplishments of Black peers — rather than being told about them — the racial attention deficit subsides. We suggest that such a deficit can explain racial gaps documented in science, education, health, and law.


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December 3, 2021