Are your hidden biases soon to be revealed? A computer program claims to be able to unmask them by scrutinising people’s body language for signs of prejudice.
Algorithms can already accurately read people’s emotions from their facial expressions or speech patterns. So a team of researchers in Italy wondered if they could be used to uncover people’s hidden racial biases. First, they asked 32 white college students to fill out two questionnaires. One was designed to suss out their explicit biases, while the second, an Implicit Association iTest, aimed to uncover their subconscious racial biases.
Then, each participated in two filmed conversations: one with a white person, and one with a black person. The pair spent three minutes discussing a neutral subject, then another three on a more sensitive topic, such as immigration. Their movements, heart rates and skin responses were monitored. An algorithm then searched for correlations between the participants’ questionnaire responses and their non-verbal behaviour during the filmed conversations. For example, it found that those who showed strong hidden racial biases kept a bigger distance between themselves and their black conversational partners. Conversely, those who were comfortable in the conversation seemed to pause more and to use their hands more when they spoke.
Then, the computer looked back at the same data and trying to predict who would have scored high or low on the hidden biases test. It was correct 82 per cent of the time. The team has already started working on follow-up experiments. One focuses on hidden biases towards people who are HIV-positive, while another examines the behaviour of children.
It is hoped that these techniques may lead to improvements in the way interactions between people are studied, providing objective information on a moment by moment, second by second basis. They could reveal hidden prejudices and maybe gently nudge the subject,to act differently. (Adapted from a New Scientist article by Aviva Rutkin)
The problem with this is that people are biased against others for all sorts of reasons, skin colour being only one. We unconsciously change the way we talk to people according to appearance, age, way of speaking, perceived education, political beliefs, appearance, manners, context of a conversation and a raft of other things. To have prejudices is part of being human. “We are always biased, and bias is not based just on the colour of the skin,” says Hatice Gunes at the University of Cambridge. Quite.