Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: The Concrete Benefits of Diversity

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Concrete Benefits of Diversity

Just in time for Martin Luther King Day, Shankar Vedantam takes a look at diversity in the workplace in his weekly behavioral column at The Washington Post. Beyond the normal paean to diversity that one might expect today, Vedantam related some intriguing data on the psychological effects of being part of a diverse group. The studies he cites have found that white people think differently when they're part of a diverse group rather than one that is all white. And this happens even before group members have a chance to interact.

Tufts University psychologist Sam Sommers recently created mock juries -- either all white or diverse -- with volunteers from the public. He then provided the groups with ambiguous information about a crime involving a sexual assault and a black defendant. Sommers asked his "jurors" to judge whether the defendant was guilty.

About a third of whites in juries that were diverse thought the defendant was guilty, while 50 percent of the jurors in all-white groups reached that conclusion. What was really interesting, however, is that Sommers had people draw their conclusions before the groups had any discussions. The mere presence of people of color in the diverse groups caused whites to think differently about the case.

This is fascinating to me. If we're willing to think differently when in the presence of others who are not like us, why don't we carry over that same kind of thinking when we are among people who are like us. And is there a sort of sliding scale? Do we think a little bit differently if the group is, say, 10 percent diverse; does that expand if the group becomes 30 percent diverse? I'd also be interested to see if the thinking of minority individuals changes depending on the level of diversity. And is this an American phenomenon, or is this true in other parts of the world that have different majority groups?

Vedantam was also on Morning Edition this morning talking about his column. Click through to listen.


At 10:05 AM, January 16, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does this work as well when whites are exposed to other whites cleverly disguised as minorities, or do you need authentic minorities for this to work?

Perhaps those suits as worn by the agents in A Scanner Darkly need to be put to better use than supporting some drug casualties fiction.

At 12:07 PM, January 16, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought this was intriguing too. I heard the NPR story and immediately went to look for the article online.

I like the slant about diverse workplaces. The argument has always been that people of diverse backgrounds bring a diversity of opinions to the workplace. But now this shows that other employees might think in new ways just by being surrounded by people with different backgrounds than them. Very interesting stuff.

At 3:15 PM, January 16, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

True story: I knew this guy who was biracial. While we were smoking some weed one of his roommates, a jew from the Chicago suburbs, asked him, quite bluntly, which hand he jerked off with. "The right" he replied, "that's the white one".

Their place was very diverse. Eventually it burned down; the fire department was quite abusive at the scene of the fire. Most of the kids living in the house were dropouts form U of I and/or workers in the service industry for U of I. Not students, not protected.


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