In previous blogs, I have discussed the notion of implicit or unconscious biases which are “…social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing.” (https://diversity.ucsf.edu/resources/unconscious-bias)
Such implicit biases can include someone’s height, weight, ethnicity, religion, nationality, sex, sexual orientation…. In short, just about any identifying factor.
But, there is one that I never thought about before: one having the same name as someone else. In the August 4, 2018 edition of The New York Times (Sunday Review section), Anupam B. Jena (professor of medicine), Cass R. Sunstein (professor of law) and Tanner R. Hicks (medical research analyst) published an article noting that justice is not always blind. Entitled, “The Benefit of Having the Same Name as a Police Officer”, these researchers discussed an analysis they conducted on the relationship between speeding tickets and names. Using data on nearly four million speeding tickets in Florida, they examined the data to determine if the first name of the speeder had any effect on the police officer issuing the citation when his/her first name was the same. To do this, they culled the data for repeat offenders (i.e., at least 2 tickets) during their study period 2014-2017 looking for citations “…by both an officer who shared the driver’s first name and an officer who did not.” (Id.) They used each driver as “…their own control, relying on the randomness of officers occasionally pulling over drivers with their same first name.” (Id.)
What the researchers were looking for is whether such drivers received “mercy” tickets or tickets that indicate speeding only nine miles per hour above the limit, which means the lowest fine and “…is just below a large fine increase.” (Id.) In their initial analysis of the data, these researchers found that,
On average, about 40 percent of drivers who were ticketed for speeding up to 20 miles above the speed limit received a mercy ticket, defined as a ticket for driving just nine m.p.h. above the speed limit instead of a ticket for the speed they were actually driving. That probability rose significantly — by a full 2 percent — when a driver shared a first name with the ticketing officer.
That might not sound like a huge difference, but the effect is as large as the leniency officers of all races give to white as opposed to African-American drivers, and about two-thirds the size of the leniency officers give to white as opposed to Hispanic drivers. (Id.)
In short, the bias towards the same first name counteracted other biases. Thus, if a white officer pulled over an African-American with the same first name, the alleged implicit negative racial bias disappeared. The driver received a “mercy” ticket rather than one for the actual speed being driven. (Id.)
The article raises the question that is no doubt in all of our minds: in what other areas does this bias exist? I suspect it is prevalent throughout the legal system and elsewhere. Ask yourself- when you meet someone with the same first name- isn’t your reaction more positive and favorable towards that person than when you meet someone with a first name that is different than yours?
Obviously, this plays out in any negotiation and mediation. Without realizing it (i.e., implicit bias at work here!), we react more favorably to what the other person is saying simply because we share a common first name. The negotiations may go more smoothly, not take as long and resolve more quickly and cordially.
…. So, what’s in a name? Could be everything!
…. Just something to think about.
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