Social Psychology at the First Presidential Debate

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Originally posted on September 28, 2016. 

We social psychologists have reeled on a couple recent occasions over news reports of unreplicated studies, including one of my favorites—the pencil-in-the-teeth versus mouth of how manipulated facial expression affects mood. But then we also revel in the visible discussions of one of our bigger ideas: implicit bias, which Hillary Clinton obviously understands:

Debate moderator Lester Holt: Secretary Clinton, last week, you said we’ve got to do everything possible to improve policing, to go right at implicit bias. Do you believe that police are implicitly biased against black people?

Hillary Clinton: Lester, I think implicit bias is a problem for everyone, not just police. I think, unfortunately, too many of us in our great country jump to conclusions about each other. And therefore, I think we need all of us to be asking hard questions about, you know, why am I feeling this way?

In some of the many experiments that reveal implicit bias, people are challenged to do as police sometimes must—to make a split-second decision whether to fire a gun, depending on whether a pictured person is holding a gun or, say, a phone. In these experiments, Blacks more than Whites are misperceived to be gun-holding. Vice presidential candidate Mike Pence apparently is unconvinced (if aware) of these experiments: “Donald Trump and I believe there's been far too much of this talk of institutional bias or racism within law enforcement.”

About the Author
David Myers has spent his entire teaching career at Hope College, Michigan, where he has been voted “outstanding professor” and has been selected by students to deliver the commencement address. His award-winning research and writings have appeared in over three dozen scientific periodicals and numerous publications for the general public. He also has authored five general audience books, including The Pursuit of Happiness and Intuition: Its Powers and Perils. David Myers has chaired his city's Human Relations Commission, helped found a thriving assistance center for families in poverty, and spoken to hundreds of college and community groups. Drawing on his experience, he also has written articles and a book (A Quiet World) about hearing loss, and he is advocating a transformation in American assistive listening technology (see