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Cognitive Racial Discrimination: A Benchmark Experimental Study


  • Michèle Belot

    () (Centre for Experimental Social Sciences, Nuffield College, University of Oxford)


This study investigates the following questions: Is it harder to distinguish and remember people if they are of another race? And do memory limitations have discriminatory implications? To answer these questions, I conduct an experiment in a laboratory environment. Participants are presented with a set of potential candidates of different races - East Asian and Caucasian White - and each candidate is associated with a monetary value. Incentives are provided to recall candidates with higher values. I find that people are much better able to recall candidates with higher values if they are of the same race. Candidates of the other race are more likely to be confused with each other. This leads to positive and negative discrimination at the same time: those at bottom of the value distribution benefit while those at the top lose out. These results suggest that cognitive biases could play a role in the nature of cross-racial relations, in particular for phenomena relying on repeated interactions and individual recognition, such as the formation and maintenance of social ties or the establishment of trust relationships.

Suggested Citation

  • Michèle Belot, 2010. "Cognitive Racial Discrimination: A Benchmark Experimental Study," Discussion Papers 2010002, University of Oxford, Nuffield College.
  • Handle: RePEc:cex:dpaper:2010002

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    Own-Race-Bias; Discrimination; Bounded Memory;

    JEL classification:

    • J71 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Discrimination - - - Hiring and Firing
    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness

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