Jennifer Eberhardt, a social psychologist with Stanford University, was among the 21 people who received a 2014 “Genius” Award from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Eberhardt’s career focus is on the unconscious way in which humans code and categorize people by race, particularly as it relates to perceptions about crime.
Eberhardt was senior author on a 2012 project that involved several hundred white participants, who were presented with the case of a 14-year-old juvenile offender with 17 prior convictions. Half of the participants were told that the offender was white, the other half were told he was black.
Both groups were then asked two questions:
- To what extent do you support life sentences without the possibility of parole (LWOP) for juveniles when no one was killed?
- How much do you believe that juveniles who commit crimes such as these should be considered less blameworthy than an adult who commits a similar crime?
The study found that participants who had a black offender in mind were more likely to support LWOP for juvenile offenders, and less likely to make a distinction between juveniles and adults in regard to blame for a crime.
The findings support the notion that many whites without any animosity toward other races can harbor racial biases even they are not aware of.
Eberhardt is an associate professor at Stanford’s Department of Psychology. She is co-director of the university-sponsored SPARQ (Social Psychological Answers to Real-World Questions).
Also among the 2014 Genius winners is indigent defense advocate Jonathan Rapping, a criminal lawyer based in Atlanta. In 2007 Rapping founded Gideon’s Promise, an organization that teaches public defenders to work more effectively within the judicial system by providing training and professional development as well as a supportive network of peers and mentors from around the country.
Winners of the MacArthur Genius Award are chosen from a larger group of candidates fielded by designated nominators for the foundation. The winners receive a no-strings-attached $625,000 cash award.
John Kelly is the editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.