Illusions at work

Video

We say that “seeing is believing,” but visual illusions can trick us, whether we’re looking at checkerboards or human faces. How can we outsmart them?

Subscribe to Outsmarting Implicit Bias

Highlights

Key takeaways from this module

Dive deeper

Extra materials if you want to learn more

Related modules

Links

There are illusions we all fall prey to, like Ted Adelson’s Checker-Shadow illusion or Roger Shepard’s table tops. But some perceptions vary from person to person. Remember this dress? Was it black and blue or white and gold? This simple question set fire to the internet in 2015. The real dress was black and blue… so why did some people see something so different? It turns out that the colors we “see” change depending on how our minds interpret the source of light in the photograph. Read more about the science behind the illusion at Wired.

Just as a face labeled “Black” or “White” looks darker or lighter, or how a musician labeled a “natural” or a “hard-worker” sounds different, the name at the top of a resume can change how qualified we think a person is. To learn more, read our article Can women be biased against other women? and listen to our podcast Race bias in hiring: When both applicant and employer lose.

“Some 51% of the employers who considered candidates individually chose an employee who had underperformed relative to the group. By contrast, only 8% of the employers who considered candidates side-by-side chose underperformers.” How does simultaneous evaluation help us see talent more clearly? Read more about the research at The Wall Street Journal.

“Most companies say they want to attract a diverse workforce, but few deliver. The only solution may be a radical one: anonymity.” Find out how Silicon Valley is taking steps towards a more diverse workforce (New York Times).

References

Basu, S., & Savani, K. (2019). Choosing Among Options Presented Sequentially or Simultaneously. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 28(1), 97-101.

Dion, K. K. (1972). Physical attractiveness and evaluation of children’s transgressions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 24(2), 207-213.

Goldin, C., & Rouse, C. (2000). Orchestrating impartiality: The impact of” blind” auditions on female musicians. American Economic Review, 90(4), 715-741.

Levin, D. T., & Banaji, M. R. (2006). Distortions in the perceived lightness of faces: the role of race categories. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 135(4), 501.

Tsay, C. J., & Banaji, M. R. (2011). Naturals and strivers: Preferences and beliefs about sources of achievement. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47(2), 460-465.

Credits

“When seeing shouldn’t be believing: Illusions at work” was created and developed by Olivia Kang, Moshe Poliak, Kirsten Morehouse, Evan Younger, and Mahzarin Banaji. Research and Development Assistants for this episode include Moshe Poliak and Megan Burns. Support for Outsmarting Human Minds comes from PwC, Johnson & Johnson, and Harvard University.

Narration by Olivia Kang, featuring Professor Daniel Levin (Vanderbilt University)

Animation and Editing by Evan Younger

Artwork by Evan Younger and Olivia Kang

Music by Peter McIsaac Music, Origami Pigeon, Immersive Music, and Taizo Audio via Premium Beat.