2016 William James Fellow

Mahzarin R. Banaji

Harvard University

Mahzarin R. Banaji is the among the world’s foremost investigators of social cognition and unconscious bias. In three decades of sustained and concentrated effort, she has illuminated the pernicious influence of implicit prejudice on the feelings, thoughts, and behavior of ordinary people. Her early work was among the first to demonstrate that nearly all of us maintain unconscious—and largely uncontrollable—beliefs about the stereotypical characteristics of social group members; for example, that women, dolls, and caring form a natural mental category that women, doctor, and career do not.

Her 1995 Psychological Review article coauthored with Anthony G. Greenwald, “Implicit Social Cognition: Attitudes, Self-Esteem, and Stereotypes,” established a road map of conceptual questions about unconscious social phenomena. Twenty years later, this paper remains the guiding framework for contemporary research on implicit prejudice. Moreover, her collaboration with Greenwald also helped supply the field with its primary methodological tool for making progress on the problem of implicit social cognition—the Implicit Association Test (IAT)—which has become the dominant experimental technique for measuring unconscious bias.

Banaji has also had an outsized influence on the field through her exceptional training of graduate students and is widely acknowledged as one of the most devoted mentors in the field. Most recently, Banaji has been dedicated to educating a wider audience on the perils of unconscious bias and has worked tirelessly to help corporate, government, and legal entities act more equitably and with greater justice. With Greenwald, she has recently published a trade book, Blindspot, aimed at disseminating what has been learned about implicit attitudes and how to arm oneself against them.

Banaji’s work is animated by twin imperatives—to uncover the hidden workings of the human social mind and to harness this scientific knowledge to help create a fairer and more rational world. In pursuing these goals, she has revealed previously unrecognized influences on human behavior, created tools and theoretical frameworks that guide the field, and inspired an entire generation of scholars.

See Banaji’s award address presented at the 2017 APS Annual Convention in Boston, MA, USA.