"If you're all egalitarians, how come you're so racist?" - Social norms, implicit bias and discrimination

Why are ethnic discrimination and inequality widespread in Sweden when studies suggest that Swedes are among the most egalitarian people in the world? This project analyses implicit biases in relation to social norms.

Swedish society is marked by ethnic discrimination in the job market, as well as segregation in the housing market. At the same time, surveys show that a majority of Swedes endorses egalitarian values. Research in social psychology suggests an unexpected answer to the question of why racial inequalities and discrimination persist, in spite of prevalent egalitarian values: they might be due to implicit racial biases – automatic race-related stereotypes and associations that are not fully conscious and beyond our direct control. However, the mechanisms connecting implicit bias to discrimination are hitherto poorly analysed. Moreover, the unconscious and unendorsed nature of the phenomenon seems to undermine the justification for holding people responsible for their biases and resulting behaviour.

The aim of the project is to improve our understanding of implicit biases’ effects on social norm followers, and to analyse the implications for moral responsibility. More specifically, we aim to (A) develop a dynamic gametheoretic model of social norms, which can accommodate the agents’ implicit biases and model their effects on the social outcome. This will provide a new way of understanding the micro-level mechanisms pertaining to the macro-level problems of racial inequalities and discrimination. Moreover, we thereby propose (B) a new basis for ascribing moral responsibility to these agents. Ultimately, we expect this framework to provide us with a new set of, and justification for, tools to address and reduce these injustices.



Principal Investigator

Stina Björkholm PhD, Philosophy

External project members