Experiment in Problem Solving Finds Whites Pay Less Attention to the Ideas of Their Black Peers

A new study led by Sheen S. Levine, an adjunct research scholar in the sociology department at Columbia University and professor of management at the University of Texas, Dallas, shows that White Americans pay less attention to Black peers.

Dr. Levine observed that people in the business community “seemed earnestly interested in promoting diversity.” However, in his conversations with Black people in the workforce, he learned that they “felt welcome at the door,” but their ideas and accomplishments were often ignored. To test this lack of attention, Levine and his research team developed a model to measure people’s willingness to learn from others.

The researchers gave study participants, a group of gender-balanced Americans, a puzzle with the offer of a bonus if they answered correctly. Each participant was able to see how their peers, either White or Black, solved the same puzzle and could choose whether to learn from them. The only way to get the right answer was to use input from the peers, allowing the researchers to test whether participants were more likely to dismiss information from one racial group.

The researchers found that participants were 33 percent more likely to pay attention to and learn from White peers compared to Black ones; they also rated Black peers as less skilled than White peers.

“Leaders of organizations should pay attention to these findings in order to understand racial disparity in patterns of attention,” said David Stark a professor of sociology at Columbia University and a co-author of the study. “It’s in everyone’s interest that we find ways to remedy this ‘racial attention deficit’.”

“The authors of this paper have made a significant contribution to the social sciences by demonstrating behaviorally how and how much white people ignore, overlook, and underestimate Black people,” said Michèle Lamont, professor of sociology and African and African American Studies at Harvard University and former president of the American Sociological Association. “Their study of ‘recognition gaps’ explores new paths in our understanding of how inequality operates, which has everything to do with how everyday judgments of worth are omnipresent and make racism so hard to combat.”

The full study, “Racial Attention Deficit,” was published in the journal ScienceAdvances. It may be accessed here.

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Comments (4)

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  1. Pet Charles says:

    I sure would have like to see other racial/ethnic groups in the study to see how they view Blacks. This Black vs White obsession is hiding a lot of anti-Black racism in the US.

    • HBCU Watch says:

      Hey “Pet Charles”,

      Let’s be clear and honest for a moment. The vast majority of other racial and ethnic groups (e.g., Asians, Latinos, Pacific-Islanders, and especially African and Caribbean immigrants[regardless of age] have the same white racist mentality as “White Americans”. The reason for this is based upon decades and hundreds of years of miseducation and incessant propaganda as orchestrated by White America about native born Black Americans. As a result, these people from other neo-colonial and colonized are so inclined to believe what their colonial master’s tell them.

      For those who dissent, I challenge you to tell me when do you ever hear African & Caribbean immigrants saying “when I get to the USA I’m going to partner up with native born Black Americans?” They don’t. As a result, when such persons become entangled in American racism, the native born Black American community will not render any substantive aid, as we see with Haiti. By the way “Pet Charles”, what’s the probability that you’re not a native born Black American?

      • Ronald B. Saunders says:

        I agree with your entire statement. Its very unfortunate that our brothers and sisters throughout the Diaspora haven’t attempted to decolonize their mindset. They will always believe what their colonial masters have taught them to believe about native born Black Americans.

      • Denise says:

        HBCU Watch…read is on point. As an black American who also identifies with a Caribbean heritage your statement is true regarding the western civilization idea. Its very rare teaming up as black people unit progresses forward. Its eye for eye, tooth for tooth – get your own.

        Sad, but I’m here to break the stigma. I help all and push forward all brown colored skin folk.

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