Racial inequality in hiring, wages, evaluations, and promotions is a continuing issue in the contemporary United States. We know that implicit biases advantage white job candidates over equally qualified job applicants from other racial groups. We also know that individuals exert cognitive effort to rationalize and justify racial disparities in ways that reproduce inequality. However, little research has examined the interplay between unconscious and cognitive processes in relation to decision-making outcomes related to work. This project focuses on how individuals interpret and cognitively attend to information when evaluating job applicants’ résumés that differ on race/ethnicity and work ability to better understand how individuals interpret such information. Project findings will inform workplace and governmental policies and practices to modify and improve hiring strategies that address inequality in evaluations relevant to key aspects of the work process.

Racial inequality at work is a partial function of both unconscious and cognitive mechanisms that are present in hiring recommendations. This project uses a mixed-methods experimental design that collects evaluations, physiological measurements and qualitative interviews. One hundred and eighty participants will review a pair of résumés that signal race/ethnicity and work ability, i.e. work skill score, a tool used by companies to diversify their hiring practices. Neurological and eye-tracking methods will be used to investigate implicit and cognitive attention during résumé evaluations and qualitative interviews will be used to observe how decisions are rationalized. A neurological approach captures evaluators’ cognitive attention when evaluating different types of information, such as race/ethnicity and work skill scores. Eye-tracking methods will triangulate what information is implicitly capturing evaluators’ attention. Of the 180 participants, thirty randomly-selected evaluators will participate in qualitative interviews to help provide insight into the interpretive frameworks evaluators may use to justify unequal outcomes. The mixed-methods approach will demonstrate for social psychologists key strategies for studying racial inequality; for race and ethnicity scholars the project will demonstrate the power of experimentation in the laboratory. Project outcomes will contribute to sociological theories relevant to both social psychology and sociology of race and ethnicity.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Joseph Whitmeyer
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Kent State University
United States
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