Mahzarin R. Banaji

Harvard University


Election Year: 2018
Primary Section: 52, Psychological and Cognitive Sciences
Secondary Section: 53, Social and Political Sciences
Membership Type: Member
Photo Credit: Robert Taylor

Biosketch

Mahzarin R. Banaji is an experimental psychologist who studies implicit social cognition. Her work brought attention to a fundamental disparity in thought – the endorsement of the ideals of equal treatment on the one hand and discrimination in behavior on the other. With colleagues, Banaji is known for the development of a method known as the Implicit Association Test with which she has probed the automatic reliance on social category knowledge in judgments of individuals. Banaji was born and raised in India. She received her PhD from The Ohio State University, served as an NIH postdoctoral fellow at University of Washington and taught at Yale University for 15 years. Since 2002, she has been Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. She has served as President of the Association for Psychological Science, recognized as William James Fellow of APS for contributions to the basic science of psychology, and received the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Research Interests

Mahzarin Banaji’s laboratory is focused on the study of implicit social cognition. The study of human cognition has relied on methods that rely on introspective access for over a hundred years, since the inception of the science in the late 19th century. As technologies became available beginning in the 1980s, scientists began to observe mental processes and mental content that can reside outside conscious awareness and conscious control. Banaji’s contributions have included the application of a method, the Implicit Association Test to study the automatic reliance on social categories like age, gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, social class, religion and many other such features on decisions about the individual – in particular, on decisions about their goodness and competence. Banaji showed that those who appear not to harbor any explicit prejudices nevertheless demonstrate biased responses on the IAT that show preference for own group or the dominant group, that members of disadvantaged groups have often implicitly internalized negative beliefs about their groups, that children at a very early age show evidence of such group-based preferences, that neuroimaging can show correspondence between brain activity and behavior, and that implicit attitudes are malleable and open to change. Banaji and colleagues maintain a website implicit.harvard.edu at which interested individuals can learn about their implicit biases, and she is now involved in a program of education called outsmartinghumanminds.org. 

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