Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Situational influences during job interviews

Doing some reading for the class I'm teaching, specifically John Doris' piece on criminal law and the psychology of excuses. This stood out for me:

"...situational influences often appear to do their work with little regard to the character or personality of the person in the situation... social psychologists have repeatedly found that both disappointing omissions and appalling actions are readily induced through seemingly minor situational manipulations."

This strikes me as relevant to the inevitable discussions about interview dress codes that pop up here during the job season. (For the record, I really enjoy those discussions, and how het up some Smokers get about it.) I think it's interesting how often it is stated (or implied) that there must be a character flaw (lack of virtue?) in interviewers who could be negatively influenced by the clothing (or makeup, or lack thereof) worn by the job candidate. This often appears in something resembling a defense of individual liberty in dress, with the implication being that anyone who is influenced by clothing must be petty, stupid, superficial, sexist, classist (choose your pejorative) if they let something like your suit (or lack thereof) influence their opinion of you as a job candidate.

It strikes me, though, that societal dress codes do their work in the background, like situational influences. The fact that I'm a feminist doesn't stop me from seeing some women's clothing as kinda trashy, for instance, even if the wearer is not, in fact, trashy. I can acknowledge your right to express yourself through your clothing without having to concede that, by the fashion norms of the moment, your clothing is kinda trashy. (And if I can see butt crack, I'm offended -- that goes for guys and gals.) There's a female scientist at the university where I teach. She has made some significant research contributions to her field. But before I knew that about her, I only knew what she looked like, and what she looked like to me is someone who, although young, has had a significant amount of plastic surgery, wears a huge amount of makeup, and wears hooker boots, all of which made it hard for me to take her seriously. I'm pretty liberal about clothing (except the aforementioned coin slots, as well as camel toes, and toe cleavage, which, I'll admit, is my personal bugaboo). I really, really like the fact that, as academics, we typically have more sartorial freedom than people in many other professions have, but were I on an SC interviewing such a candidate, I would probably have the same first impression, based only on her appearance. Her CV, of course, might tell a very different story, but given ten job candidates, all well-qualified (which is to say, all else being equal), her appearance might be a liability for me. And given that she's going to get half an hour of my time, there's a relatively small window of opportunity there to alter my impression.

The point is, when you show up for an interview, your appearance will make an impression (conscious or subconscious, good or bad) on the interviewers, and this impression may have nothing to do with their own character flaws, and everything to do with social norms and situational influences. One way to neutralize factors that are beyond your control, at least as far as clothing is concerned, is to (at least minimally) meet the expectations. This doesn't strike me as evil or onerous, nor as a violation of the individual liberty of someone who is on the job market, any more than expecting you not to behave like a complete asshat (even if you are a complete asshat) is too much to ask. By not drawing attention to your appearance (or asshattedness), you leave more attention for you and your work, no? (Actors -- male and female -- who have had too much plastic surgery distract me no end. I can't watch the performance when I'm continually distracted by the weird topography of their faces.)

There are cases, I would argue, where appearance-based biases would be far more troubling and pernicious: assumptions about skin color, sex, nationality, or disability, for example. But clothing is voluntary, and you have choices. My assumptions about your clothing may be wrong, but it is not unreasonable for me to make some assumptions. Is it?

This is, it's worth noting, a discussion other professions have too.

~zombie

64 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you're making some unfortunate assumptions about sex workers.

Neil said...

Uhlmann & Cohen (2005) asked subjects to rate the suitability of two candidates for police chief, one male and one female. One candidate was presented as ‘streetwise’ but lacking in formal education while the other one had the opposite profile. Uhlmann and Cohen varied the sex of the candidates across conditions, so that some subjects got a male streetwise candidate and a female well-educated candidate while other subjects got the reverse. In both conditions, subjects considered the male candidate significantly better qualified than the female, explaining their choice by the importance of the qualification that the male candidate possessed.


Moral of the tale: you may be influenced by facts - like dress - you take to be irrelevant, without knowing it; instead, the fact may cause you to confabulate some plausible looking justification for the conclusion you were unconsciously motivated to reach. If you think you are not susceptible to these influences, you are wrong.

Anonymous said...

I'll admit, when I saw the words "police chief", I pictured some stodgy old dude.

Might this reaction explain far more of that study's results than any negative assessment of women versus men in such roles? Seems like more of an uncritical 'round peg, round hole' reaction than anything requiring 'confabulated justifications'.

On the other hand, maybe they're right: people might be more willing to overlook coin slots on men than on women. (I'm writing up a grant proposal as we speak.)

Anonymous said...

Neil--it sounds like you're pointing out that we might have a bias that tracks dress as a cue for its expression. Surely this is true. And surely we all ought to be aware of that sort of thing. But I took it that Zombie was talking about a fully-conscious bias concerning a candidate's dress, suggesting that it might be the function of a set of conventions that are basically relative to one's time and culture, and which at any rate all members of a community ought to be aware of. I take it talk of bias is just out of place here.

word verifcation: stapwarn: any clothing belonging to the lead singer of Creed.

Neil said...

Anonymous 7:35. I'm certainly not defending conscious biases. I am claiming that it would be naive to think that we can overcome bias, such that it will not affect our behavior. It might show up in consciousness not as bias toward dress but in some other, perfectly plausible, guise. You can only detect the workings of these biases by doing controlled studies and looking at performance across groups.

Anonymous 7: 16. The hypothesis you suggest still requires confabulation. It doesn't matter what is driving the effect, so long as what is driving the effect doesn't show up in the justifications subjects give themselves. Of course this is just one study among many, in any case.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if this take is more charitable than is really justified, though. Consider two male candidates: One is wearing clothes that fit well, and are of a sort where if you saw the person teaching, or conducting an interview, you would think he has taste and class, but he isn't wearing a suit. The second candidate is wearing a cheap, ill-fitting, dark blue suit.

I take it from the comments in past messages that the second candidate is dressed appropriately, and in fact it would be inappropriate to hold the cheapness and ill-fittedness of his suit against him. But it also seems that however well-dressed the first candidate is, he might not be dressed appropriately. The reason being that what is being "measured" is not the candidate's ability to pick up on context-specific conventions, but their more general tendency to be cowed by broad social conventions, making them safe to send to the dean, pliable in faculty meetings, and so forth.

Of course, someone really good at picking up on context-specific conventions will realize this and wear the suit, and who knows what they'll do in a meeting ...

Anonymous said...

JFP is up.

Anonymous said...

I'm still waiting for the day someone over-dresses for an interview. I just might hire the first person who showed up in a tuxedo or a wedding dress.

Anonymous said...

Neil--this is anonymous 7:35.

My point was just that I don't see the relevance of what you're saying to the conversation at hand. Of course there are unjust biases (and let the notion of injustice do whatever normative work is needed). The point is, not all biases are grounded on injustices. So, the thought runs, not all biases are unjust to hold. You can point to some that are--no doubt there are others. But I don't see why that has any but a tangential bearing to the view you're responding to.

Anonymous said...

Unless I've entirely misread the post, and correct me if I have: the idea that unconscious biases, because they are unconscious are not racist, sexist or otherwise is preposterous. The idea that a person is sexist, racist or otherwise only if it enters into their conscious justifications is also preposterous. Now that we know about these biases, and that presumably, they are not plausibly innate fixed facts about the way we're wired, it is a moral requirement for us to do whatever it takes to influence them in the opposite direction whether that takes a frying pan to the head or whatever.

Now about the job market: I will, despite these facts, be pragmatic of course. I don't expect these biases to be under control this season.

YFNA

Anonymous said...

ps: I would also like to hear some examples of just biases besides the bias towards wanting to believe the truth and to being governed by certain epistemic standards for being good believers.

YFNA

Anonymous said...

Well, the comment I thought I saw here seems to have disappeared? Did I dream this? Zero?

YFNA

Mr. Zero said...

iWell, the comment I thought I saw here seems to have disappeared? Did I dream this? Zero?

I don't know what you're talking about. I didn't delete anything. If I had, it would say "this comment has been deleted by an administrator."

Anonymous said...

Ah, I see, Neil said something like this, but I am still unsure how it was meant.

Neil, can you clarify what you meant by saying it doesn't matter what's driving the biases so long as they don't show up in our conscious justifications?

YFNA

Anonymous said...

Found it!

Anonymous said...

re: Anon 9:07

The moral of the story is: for the love of all that's holy, take your suit to a decent tailor before you interview. It costs (way!) less than buying a more expensive suit, and results in you looking better than non-suit-person (and most suit-wearers) across the board.

Implicitly or occurrently, clothes matter. We all, by now, should be aware of this. Flouting that norm at some cost to yourself demonstrates either stubbornness or naivete, both of which are at least weak indicators of "pain in the ass colleague." In a buyer's market, why wouldn't people select against weak indicators of pain-in-the-asshood?

wv: quitho

I think we can all see where that's going in the context of this post.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous 5:09

I don't see what's so preposterous about the thought that conscious bias is both possible and, in some cases, not an injustice. With the case of clothing in particular, it is a fact about human beings, because of the natural and social environments in which we evolved and were raised, that certain manners of dress tend to elicit in us certain judgments of the people adopting that dress. The look of a person, their hygiene, the care of their clothes, and the style of their clothes are cues for our interpreting a person's disposition. In a society as liberal as ours, I hardly see that the degree to which folks are expected to dress 'appropriately' is a bias that is the fault of the person holding it (I take it this echoes a point Zombie made above). Instead, to flout expectations of dress seems to be a character flaw that indicates either an immature regard for oneself as a member of a group, or an ignorance of some basic points of view in that group. Sometimes this can seem to border on a disregard and ignorance for what it is to be a human being (I'm half joking--you can decide which half).

An interaction with an unkempt person in a disheveled outfit reeking of alcohol will be valenced by all sorts of judgments. So will someone who seems to be dressed so as to put on display their physical appearance. We have all sorts of expectations concerning the significance of a style of dress. These expectations often aim to track important cues as to a person's character; sometimes, they are successful at that tracking. It is because we live in such a liberal society that we can, more or less, count on a person's dress and the setting they are in to tell us something about who they are. And I'm not talking about people wearing uniforms in a Home Depot--it's really pretty easy, if you have the social skills and familiarity with how clothing cues correlate to character today, to strike up a conversation with someone and engage with them simply by thinking about what sort of person they must be like given how they are dressed.

That these conscious biases should be, simply as such, unjust strikes me as nonsense. And to impugn deeper hidden bias seems to be to change the conversation. I'm all for taking up that question if we have a particular case at hand. But the idea that studies uncovering unconscious bias over clothing affects the point being made seems to miss the point entirely.

Simple professional attire will communicate, if only slightly, that the candidate takes this thing seriously. Of course, such judgments may later prove wrong. The candidate may yet wind up an asshat. And no one should take clothing too seriously if they're able to really get to know a person. But as Zombie said, often you've only got 1/2 an hour to make an impression in person, and clothing can affect that pretty greatly. I think that's for good reason.

Anonymous said...

Isn't a bias something we believe that doesn't follow rules of epistemic rationality or on evidence? Isn't that what it is to have a bias? I am confused as to how such a thing could be justified. Please explain.

YFNA

Mr. Zero said...

Who says biases are "justified," YFNA?

Anonymous said...

Uh. Someone is arguing on here that there can be just biases, which I assume involves some kind of rational justification? Maybe I am misunderstanding the point here.

Anonymous said...

The issue, as laid out in Zombie's post, is whether judging a candidate based on dress was a character flaw of the one making the judgment. I argued that in some cases such judgment is a matter of the norms of the community, and the person who errs is not the one making the judgment, but the one who flouts the norm. (I take myself to be drawing out a line of thought I see in Zombie's original post, but maybe I'm wrong.)

Biases such as these need not be unjust. Maybe you don't like the term 'bias.' The point is that thinking of judgments based on dress as a character flaw of the one making the judgment is not always correct. For whatever you call them, these rules for judging people clue us in to the sort of person we are dealing with. They are features of our evolved and educated position in the world, and we use them to track the character of the people we interact with. Come in to a job interview unkempt and reeking of alcohol, or looking like you're out for a night on the town, and you're going to communicate features of your disposition that are reliably tracked by such dress.

Sure, you'd like us to hope that in this case they aren't marking what they generally do, but when you're dealing with someone for the space of maybe half an hour, little cues like dress and demeanor can carry a lot of information. And rightly so. It's part of how we get along in the world, and it's essential for how we get along with one another.

Mr. Zero said...

Someone is arguing on here that there can be just biases, which I assume involves some kind of rational justification?

I don't see it. I took Zombie's point to be that the biases exist and that being affected by them doesn't make you a bad person, it makes you a human being. I don't see anyone arguing that these biases are rationally justified. I do see Zombie pointing out that, in a certain environment, behaving as though these biases do not exist conveys information to people with whom you interact. And that this implies that job applicants are well-advised not to do this, even if it is in fact true that the biases should not exist.

That is, search committees are going to look at you and make judgments about you, your qualifications, and your suitability for the job based on what you are wearing and how you present yourself. And the fact that they shouldn't do this has no bearing on whether they will. And that even a highly conscientious person who consciously disavows these inferences and takes care to avoid making them is going to be at least moderately unsuccessful. And so a wise applicant takes care to present herself in a way that acknowledges and reflects this reality.

And I think Zombie's example about the scientist at her school demonstrates that she understands that these inferences are unreliable. But if the scientist is going to a job interview, she ought to take notice of the fact that people are going to make unwarranted inferences about her based on the way she's dressed. They won't be able to help it. And if she knows that and doesn't do anything about it, then her interviewing is going to have room for improvement.

Anonymous said...

Yeah. I know ZERO. I was referring to a comment in which someone asserted that some biases might, in fact, be just. I also earlier said that I myself would be acting pragmatically.

However, your suggestion that we cannot do anything consciously to alter our biases is questionable. As well as the idea that having biases is merely human and implying by this that therefore we need not do anything about them, or perhaps that we can't, is likewise specious.

YFNA

Kenny said...

The original post talked about the right to 'express oneself' by how one dresses. If no one read anything into how you dressed, then the way you dressed wouldn't 'express' anything. As a result, I don't think the problem is with people making some judgments based on dress. Where the problem comes in, I think, is when someone makes an UNJUSTIFIED inference from how a candidate is dressed to an IRRELEVANT (alleged) fact about the candidate and then bases a hiring decision on that. Of course, doing just one or the other is bad enough, but there are common examples where people (usually unconsciously) do both together. For instance:

1) The (female) candidate is wearing no makeup
Therefore,
2) The candidate is a lesbian
Therefore,
3) The candidate would be a poor choice for the job

Or:

1) The candidate is shabbily dressed
Therefore,
2) The candidate is poor/lower class
Therefore,
3) The candidate would be a poor choice for the job

In each example, the first inference relies on objectionable stereotyping, and the second inference on objectionable prejudices. So I take it these are the uncontroversially bad cases of judging on the basis of dress.

But consider:

1) The candidate put no effort whatsoever into his/her appearance for our interview
Therefore,
2) The candidate does not care how he/she appears to us
Therefore,
3) The candidate is not excited about this job possibility, and would therefore not be a good choice

This doesn't seem objectionable to me in the same way as the first two examples. In fact, some people (including a lot of academics) intentionally dress in ways that suggest that they do not care about their appearance, and this is part of their 'self-expression,' but it's probably not what you should 'express' to a hiring committee.

Neil said...

11.35/7.42. The original post mentioned the claim that others think it is shallow to be influenced by clothing. My claim was that in addition to conscious biases, shallow or not, there are unconscious biases which are extremely difficult to detect in oneself, let alone control. They are hard to detect because they cause us to have entirely plausible seemingly relevant thoughts, complete with justifications. We should try to eliminate these biases in ourselves, but since that is a longterm project (almost certainly involving large social change), jobseekers might reasonably attempt to avoid triggering some of them (especially trivial ones like dress).

Mr. Zero said...

I was referring to a comment in which someone asserted that some biases might, in fact, be just.

Ok. Sorry if I misunderstood. But I quickly reviewed the comments preceding your post @ 9:27 and didn't see anyone making that claim, and so in a post @ 10:04 I asked you who made that claim. In response, you (I assume that's you @ 10:30) didn't pull a quote or identify any comment in particular. You just said "someone on here." I'm still not really sure whom you are addressing.

However, your suggestion that we cannot do anything consciously to alter our biases is questionable.

My claim wasn't anywhere near that strong. My claim was, "...even a highly conscientious person who consciously disavows these inferences and takes care to avoid making them is going to be at least moderately unsuccessful."

Although this is a relatively new area, the research I'm familiar with indicates somewhat of a consensus that there are these latent cognitive biases that affect everyone, that they are not available to introspection, that it is not possible to consciously compensate for them once one has been made aware of them, and that they are basically stable over time. That doesn't mean that we cannot do anything consciously to alter our biases. It does suggest, though, that it might not be a good idea for you, the interviewer, to regard yourself as having successfully avoided making any bias-related inferences. And it also suggests that it would not be a good idea for you, the applicant, to regard your interviewers as being capable of successfully avoiding these inferences.

And so, finally, if you, the applicant, know that your interviewers are likely to unconsciously make unwarranted inferences about your qualifications based on what you're wearing, and your interviewers know that you know that, then it would be really unwise to go ahead and wear the clothes that are likely to produce unfavorable inferences.

And that's true even if the inferences are unwarranted, and even if everyone knows that they're unwarranted. Because (a) the interviewers might still make them even if they themselves regard them as unwarranted; and (b) the interviewers might well take your failure to guard against such common (however unwarranted) inferences to warrant certain inferences about your social skills and interest level.

But again, I'm not defending the claim that unwarranted inferences caused by latent biases are "just." I'm still not sure that anyone made this claim here. I simply mean to defend what I took to be Zombie's claim, that in this admittedly imperfect environment, it does in fact make sense for search committees to expect applicants to present themselves a certain way in job interviews, and to hold it against applicants when they don't. And if you, YFNA, don't disagree with this point, then I guess we agree on this point.

As well as the idea that having biases is merely human and implying by this that therefore we need not do anything about them, or perhaps that we can't, is likewise specious.

I don't see where I implied that we need not do anything about them. I did say that having biases is human, but the research suggests that this is true, that there are various biases that affect us all. And I did say that being vulnerable to certain biases does not make one a bad person, but that claim seems to me to be true on the assumption that not all people are bad people. I did not claim that we should merely regard ourselves as helpless against them. I was trying to recommend a realistic attitude about the likelihood of success, both in ourselves and in those with whom we interact. I was trying to recommend both caution and humility.

Anonymous said...

"So, the thought runs, not all biases are unjust to hold."

"That these conscious biases should be, simply as such, unjust strikes me as nonsense."

QED

YFNA

Mr. Zero said...

Hi YFNA,

Thanks for the quotes. However, I was hoping you'd point to someone who thinks that e.g. a racist latent bias is not racist because it is latent, as you say you are disputing @ 5:09; or that these biases are justified somehow (rationally?), as you suggest somebody has done @9:27; or that the biases might be just--as in instances of justice, and as opposed to "not unjust" or "not an injustice," which are not equivalent to and weaker than the affirmative claim about justice--as you say you are referring to @ 12:00.

The person from your first quote is just saying that in situations in which the content of the bias is morally neutral, there is no reason to think that the bias itself is morally pernicious (perhaps they are epistemically pernicious or something); and the second quote is just saying that expecting job applicants to dress up for their job interviews is not an injustice. Maybe these claims are wrong. I don't have strong views here. But I don't see how they're saying the things you've been complaining about all day.

Anonymous said...

I must admit I have not noticed any correlation between smart dress (or tasteful makeup) and philosophical ability or sociability. In the absence of this correlation surely one should strive to ignore smart dress and makeup in making hiring decisions.

Perhaps we could get David Chalmers to comment on this...

Dan said...

ps on a lighter note, when I read this sort of discussion I always think of Germane Greer describing another woman as wearing 'fuck-me shoes'. Until hearing that, I didn't have the concept of 'fuck-me shoes', now I do - and I can identify them...

For context see eg http://www.nigelberman.co.uk/feature1_27.htm

Mr. Zero said...

The thing about David Chalmers is that he is David Chalmers and because of the quality and influence of his work, he will never have to interview for another job again for the rest of his life. He is also extremely charming and likable. If your work is that widely regarded as being that good, and if you are that charming, then I think you have every reason to expect a favorable outcome no matter how you dress for your job interviews. If not, then probably not. You have to play the game along with the rest of us mortals.

To be clear, I am not convinced that there should be job interviews at all. But given that there are job interviews, applicants ought to ensure that their behavior reflects this fact. If there are certain customs involved with these interviews, or if the interviews and interviewers have various characteristics, applicants are well-advised to allow their behavior to reflect these facts, too.

And I guess I think that the requirement that we dress up for these interviews to be maybe the least onerous thing about them. I generally find the facts that they are typically very far from where my mother lives and are held at a time when I would like to be at her house much more problematic. I wonder if the readers of the Wedding Smoker, Funeral Smoker, and Opera Smoker blogs complain about having to dress up occasionally as much as the people at the Philosophy Smoker do.

And finally, I can't help but feel a little bad for Chalmers when people make this point every year. He really is a nice, smart, generous guy, and I feel a twinge when I see him constantly mentioned as a paradigm example of a smart person who is such a terrible dresser that he proves this point about how there's no connection between the quality of your work and how you present yourself.

Neil said...

Here in Australia, Dave is not regarded as especially badly dressed (for a philosopher).

Anonymous said...

I'm the fellow who's been defending the contention that some so-called biases are not the faults of those who have them, but are instead character-tracking judgments that we use to interpret and understand the people we interact with, shaped by contingent and facts and the values of a society. Rather than seeing these things as flaws in the persons who make them, I’ve been suggesting that at least in some cases those who contravene a society’s norms of dress are by that act telegraphing traits of character that are reliably indicated by things like a person’s dress. Neil and YFNA, so far as I can tell, are both talking about something else entirely. For they write of the biases at interest to them that (Neil):

“They are hard to detect because they cause us to have entirely plausible seemingly relevant thoughts, complete with justifications. We should try to eliminate these biases in ourselves…”

(and YFNA):
“Now that we know about these biases, and that presumably, they are not plausibly innate fixed facts about the way we're wired, it is a moral requirement for us to do whatever it takes to influence them in the opposite direction whether that takes a frying pan to the head or whatever.”

But think of how crazy it would be to eliminate our bias against disheveled alcoholics, or women wearing their fuck-me shoes. People adopt personas as a way of expressing themselves, and being able to track those expressions, navigating among them in the sea of society, is a condition on our being able to swim in that sea at all. And it would be CRAZY to think that we were under some kind of moral obligation to “do whatever it takes to influence them in the opposite direction.” What would that even mean? When I’m talking with the truck-stop owner who sold my father a surplus military dumptruck, I’m to engage with him as if he’s…the prince of England? A woman wearing her fuck-me shoes?

As I see it, in a liberal society the lenses with which we shape our social impressions of one another, and which shape some of the judgments we make of them, are one’s the determination of which are largely under the control of those we are judging. If that were not the case, we simply could not be a community together. The idea that the ‘bias’ in this sort of pre-judgment or expectation of character is always and everywhere to be eliminated, or transmuted into an opposite valence, looks simply unintelligible to me. And David Chalmers proves my point. Here’s a guy who’s genuinely sociable, a good speaker, charming, understated, and a wit. In short, a fun guy to be around. And the way he dresses communicates that perfectly.

zombie said...

"I took Zombie's point to be that the biases exist and that being affected by them doesn't make you a bad person, it makes you a human being. I don't see anyone arguing that these biases are rationally justified. I do see Zombie pointing out that, in a certain environment, behaving as though these biases do not exist conveys information to people with whom you interact. And that this implies that job applicants are well-advised not to do this, even if it is in fact true that the biases should not exist."

Yep, Zero's got it.

Whether you agree with clothing conventions or not, they exist, and they influence how people perceive you. If you want to play the job market game, it's prudent to play by the rules. I'll bet even David Chalmers has had to dress up from time to time.

FWIW, I don't think Chalmers looks bad. I've seen worse (on lesser philosophers).

Anonymous said...

Alright. I think all of us are mis-communicating here, since whenever someone says something about me, they get it wrong and vice versa.

I was under the impression that bias, by its very nature, is an unjustified kind of belief that guides behavior consciously or unconsciously.

The previous person is talking about our tendency to make correct judgments based on evidence. I no longer understand what a bias is, in that case. It seems to me that what you mean by "bias" I understand as a mere tendency. Of course, those can surely be justified. A tendency to believe the evidence would be a just "bias" then, I guess.

Since this conversation no longer makes any sense to me, I will try to refrain from making any more comments on topic.

However, I do still think that if we have any so-called biases at all about what to believe they should only be those biases that tend to lead to correct beliefs! But those are not really biases as far as I am concerned.

Mr. Zero said...

Alright. I think all of us are mis-communicating here, since whenever someone says something about me, they get it wrong and vice versa.

For example? (That is, I see where you're getting people wrong. Where are people getting you wrong?)

I was under the impression that bias, by its very nature, is an unjustified kind of belief that guides behavior consciously or unconsciously.

I thought a bias was an unconscious tendency to form an unjustified belief.

The previous person is talking about our tendency to make correct judgments based on evidence.

Which person? What does the person say, exactly? This is part of the problem, I think. You frequently address people without saying who it is or precisely what they said, and then paraphrase them inaccurately.

I no longer understand what a bias is, in that case. It seems to me that what you mean by "bias" I understand as a mere tendency. Of course, those can surely be justified.

I bias, as I said, is a tendency to form beliefs on insufficient or unreliable evidence. If it was a one-time thing, it wouldn't be a bias. However, I don't see why you think the mere fact that something is a tendency means that the resulting beliefs can "surely" be justified. Surely a pattern of unjustified beliefs is no more justified than a single unjustified belief.

A tendency to believe the evidence would be a just "bias" then, I guess.

Not sure where you're getting this.

However, I do still think that if we have any so-called biases at all about what to believe they should only be those biases that tend to lead to correct beliefs!

In a perfect world, there would be no biases. We don't have a perfect world. In an only moderately imperfect world, we could be aware of or control which biases were in effect at which times. We don't have a moderately imperfect world. What we have is a highly imperfect world in which a large quantity of biases are operating on us, we cannot control them, and they are not available to introspection. They are a fact of life, and you can't just ignore them or shut them off.

Zombie's point, which it seems to me you have failed to fully comprehend, is that the interview situation is one where the interviewers are going to judge you & your qualification for the job based in part on your clothes. Everyone knows this. Maybe not everyone knows that it's because of a latent cognitive bias, but everyone knows it will happen. You are therefore expected to dress up for your interviews, because if you don't your interviewers will think you're unqualified or otherwise unsuitable for the job.

And so, in this environment, there would have to be something wrong with you if you don't dress up for your interviews. No one who had an even rudimentary understanding of people and how to deal with them would consider not dressing up for an APA interview. And so, apart from any biases, failing to dress up for your interviews conveys genuine information to the interviewers. It doesn't speak to your ability to teach philosophy or conduct philosophical research; it speaks to your ability to understand what situation you're in and behave appropriately. As I understand it, this was Zombie's point.

Anonymous said...

I said in a previous post:

Now about the job market: I will, despite these facts, be pragmatic of course. I don't expect these biases to be under control this season. (just do a search on "pragmatic." It will pop right up.)

Jesus. Yes, you have repeatedly gotten me wrong. I *was* talking about ideals! I understand the pragmatic issues. Please, before you quote me and give me as ass-ripping, read my posts.

YFNA

Anonymous said...

I also recognize that some of these judgments we make about people's appearances may be justified, but I thought the more interesting question was about real biases (which I took to be those tendencies to make judgments that are not justified). I doubt that *any* of the smokers had wondered about going to the interview stinking of alcohol or wearing dirty clothes there, or dressing as one might if one were a street prostitute. I thought the question here was more subtle. For instance, if I wear red lipstick will that affect how someone views me or if I am an attractive female should I play that up or down or neither? Etc.

YFNA

Mr. Zero said...

Now about the job market: I will, despite these facts, be pragmatic of course.

I know you said you'd be pragmatic. When did I accuse you of refusing to dress up for your interviews? I thought our disagreement concerned whether such a (hypothetical) refusal would communicate actual useful information to a search committee. I say, it would.

I don't expect these biases to be under control this season.

Until interviews are conducted by robots equipped with sensors that detect the raw abilities to teach philosophy at the college level and conduct philosophical research, don't expect the biases to be under control at all.

Jesus. Yes, you have repeatedly gotten me wrong. I *was* talking about ideals! I understand the pragmatic issues. Please, before you quote me and give me as ass-ripping, read my posts.

I suspect that what has happened is, you said one thing that I thought was basically correct and which I didn't dispute, and then a bunch of things that I thought were incorrect or misguided and which I did dispute, and then you think I must be misreading you because I focused on the things I didn't agree with.

But look. You did say that somebody here believes that racist unconscious biases are not racist because they're unconscious; and that someone here believes that cognitive biases themselves can be justified (yield justified beliefs?); and that someone here believes that reliance on such biases in themselves would be an instance of justice (rather than merely possibly not unfair). Nobody said that stuff. The closest anyone came was this last one, but your interpretation is correct only if [p is not an instance of injustice] entails [p is an instance of justice], which is not obviously true and in fact seems clearly false, since p could be neutral with respect to justice.

And even your insistence that you will be pragmatic and dress up this year since the biases will still be around indicates a couple of misunderstandings. One, as I've already mentioned, the biases will always be around. Human beings characteristically are influenced by irrelevant and reliably unreliable information, and we characteristically cannot tell when it is happening. We can't get our biases under control. That's not how it works.

Two, you've repeatedly failed to understand Zombie's point here, or even to recognize that it exists. Her point is that dressing up for interviews is not just a matter of pragmatically coping with irrational interviewers. Whether there is any good reason for it deep down, search committees expect us to dress up. Obviously their cognitive biases will mislead them into thinking we're stupid and unqualified if we dress down, sure. And that's an unreliable inference caused by a bug in the human mind, sure.

But that's not the end of the story. The rest of the story is, you know that, they know you know that, and you know they expect you to dress up, and we all know that dressing up is highly customary. If you dress down, the search committee will take it as a sign that you aren't really interested in the job, because if you wanted the job you would have bothered to present yourself in the manner customary of people who want a job. Or else they'll take it as a sign that you are some kind of socially retarded weirdo who can't understand that normal human beings dress up for their job interviews.

And these inferences are not caused by a bug in the human mind. These inferences are caused by the fact that normal, intelligent human beings who want other human beings to hire them can be expected to behave in certain ways, so when a human being doesn't behave in those ways, there is a modus tollens in there somewhere.

And so dressing up for your interviews is no more a mere matter of pragmatics than polishing your writing sample. Grammatical mistakes and misspelled words are, of course, compatible with philosophical excellence. They don't look good, though.

Anonymous said...

Alright, I give up. You're right. You still have missed my point and completely ignored distinctions I have made. But I give up. I am beaten into submission. I have completely misunderstood what you have said. I now agree with you that biases are OK. I now think that it is a waste of my time to try to base my judgments on facts. I have decided that the terms "bias" and "tendency" have the same meaning. Nothing I have said that you disagree with even has merit or is worth consideration, etc.

YFNA

Mr. Zero said...

I now agree with you that biases are OK.

Dude. I didn't say that they were ok. I said they are a fact of life, that intelligent, well-socialized people behave in a way that acknowledges this fact, and that failure to do so communicates legitimate information.

I have decided that the terms "bias" and "tendency" have the same meaning.

I didn't say that 'bias' and 'tendency' are synonymous. I said that a bias is a certain kind of tendency.

I now think that it is a waste of my time to try to base my judgments on facts.

What is wrong with you? Where is this principle of charity that you insist other people observe when interpreting you?

Anonymous said...

I now invoke the no-comment-paradox ;)

YFNA

CTS said...

I’m going to throw another wrench or two into this farrago.

Someone has noted, here, that judging people, in part, on their choice of clothing for a professional interview is not unjustified/ill-founded/whatever. I agree.

If you (a) do not know what the norms are for a professional interview or (b) do not care, I have reason to have some concerns about you as a potential colleague and a teacher. I want my colleagues to be reasonably socially savvy (so as to deal with the Admin, with parents and Board members, and so as to not embarrass us with other colleagues) and to not make themselves immediate objects of ridicule to our students (whose ‘biases’ are a lot more potent than most of mine).

I might also simply wonder if you are a bit immature, and/or I might feel reluctant to be saddled with mentoring on dress as well as – you know – the substantive parts of our work.

This does not mean everyone has to clone their appearance on some abstract model. You are a man with long hair worn in a ponytail? Fine; it should be clean and relatively un-messy. You prefer a dress-shirt and slacks to a full suit? Fine; they should be clean, neat, and not wildly colorful. You are a woman who prefers a dress or shirt and skirt to the suit? Fine; all should be clean, neat, not ‘loud,’ and not very excessively revealing. Most will be safest with the clone-approach, to be sure. But that is not what is required.

By the way, I have interviewed people who smelled of vomit and/or booze, wore truly bizarre/loud and ill-matched clothes, appeared to be wearing their work-out togs, exposed enough breast (women) to distract even me (another woman). Was any of this decisive? No – except for the booze/vomit folks.
But, in competition with other really smart and accomplished candidates, those others just did not measure up.

There is no reason that great philosophers should be seen as lacking all common [social] sense. We can be extremely intelligent and not look like a long-term homeless person, an adolescent, a slob, or a prostitute.

Anonymous said...

"Hooker" boots? Really?
Why the focus on women's clothing?

priestly said...

Hm, I dunno, CTS. I think philosophers who dress low-status and unfashionably do fine with students (Chalmers), have no problem with administrators (Kim Sterelny), and probably don't have much to do with any board members. I know many, many philosophers with lousy social skills and in most cases they made very good colleagues. True, I can think of a few philosophers with bad social skills who didn't make good colleagues at all. But in my experience there just isn't any correlation.

Here are three facts about me to help readers interpret my comment. (1) All the examples I was thinking of are men. (2) I am a man. (3) I don't dress well myself.

Oh, and I guess I would have thought it went without saying that it's desirable not to show up at an interview covered in your own vomit.

wv: sordi
Almost sordid.

zombie said...

Whose vomit should one show up covered in, if not one's own?

(OK, babies get a pass on that one.)

zombie said...

And yeah, hooker boots. You know what they look like. Why women's clothes? Well, women do hold up half the sky, and they presumably also wear clothes, and because the example I used concerned a woman. But a man who showed up to an APA interview wearing hooker boots (or flip flops, or slippers, or those Vibram shoes with the toes) would also be dressed inappropriately.

(Are the kids wearing those toe shoes everywhere, or just on my campus?)

Anonymous said...

"There is no reason that great philosophers should be seen as lacking all common [social] sense."

Personally, I get very annoyed when academics use the "oh, but I'm an academic, har har" excuse as a reason not to be socially savvy, or have any sense of proper social etiquette. Being an academic does not excuse one from being a person.

Anonymous said...

Whoa, I think I know Vomit Guy. (Unless there is more than one, in which case, also whoa.) A friend of mine has a job horror story in which one of his friends became suddenly violently ill the morning before his interview, and in the course of taking her to the ER, he wound up with vomit on him, and was unable to change for some reason. (I forget the details--whether he ran out of time or only had one suit.) He reports this as one of the more mortifying experiences of his life.

I think I would've tried to reschedule the interview, as anything is better than showing up smelling of vomit. But I guess people don't always think carefully under stress.

djc said...

thanks all! the fashion and personality assessments are much appreciated. i did wear a tie on the job market (see also here). that reminds me -- i'm going to a wedding tomorrow. i must go out and buy some decent shoes.

[while i'm here: check out major progress on the philjobs front.]

CTS said...

@Anon 1:10:

So, I interviewed, with my colleagues, two absolutely vomit/booze smelling candidates ( there were others over the years about whom our SCs debated).

In both cases, we tried to figure out if the candidate was an unfortunate victim of circumstances (had the flu and vomited on the way to the interview, for example). This is not an easy conversation to have, as you might imagine. But, in one case the candidate happily told us he had only had one other interview that day – many hours earlier than hours. In the other case, we were all quite sure that the candidate was ‘still’ drunk.

Clearly, these are (we all hope) rare cases. I did not mean to have folks focus on these sorts of cases. I wanted to make the point that there are norms for professional interviews and that people who hope to be hired into a professional position should make the effort to understand the norms of interviewing in their desired profession.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:40,

It would clearly be a mistake to hire any candidate who shows up in a tuxedo. This is a sartorial blunder of a degree far beyond mere hooker boots. APA interviews are held in the afternoon by and large, and a tuxedo is evening wear.

Now, if a candidate shows up in a cutaway and striped trousers (top hat optional) do hire them on the spot.

Xenophon said...

And yeah, hooker boots. You know what they look like.

I'm late the thread here, I'm afraid. For those of us who don't frequent hookers, what are "hooker boots"?

As for the five-toed boots, how are those inappropriate? At least in an interview with an AOS in Ninjutsu.

zombie said...

http://hookerboots.net/

Glaucon said...

"They couldn't prove whose vomit it was … You can't dust for vomit."
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBCSMjHJAvg

Xenophon said...

So, basically, they're leather boots? (Of the four pictures in your link, three have high heels, but one doesn't.) Who knew?

Not sure what I see wrong with leather boots, but to each her own.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'm sorry to wade in again. I am sure people are sick of hearing me go on. But, as far as I can tell zombie, any tall boots would count as hooker boots for you. I can imagine a very tastefully dressed woman wearing tall boots, especially in the winter.

Oh yeah: and I guess I did get the gist of this conversation wrong. It is indeed about whether or not to show up to your interviews drunk and having pissed yourself or vomited on yourself. Who knew?

YFNA

Anonymous said...

I want to raise a similar question to the one zombie raises here: What are the biases against those candidates for whom English is a second language? How much does one's accent influence her/his epistemic reliability as a scholar, as well as a potential teacher, in the context of the job interviews? Do some accents (e.g., of French speakers) make one sound more sophisticated and knowledgeable than others (e.g., east asian)? What kind of measures, if any, are taken to prevent this sort of bias?

Anonymous said...

Ugh. Accents, eh? I'm Canadian and I worry about sounding dumb. So, like we are ahouwt and ahbouwt the other day, eh? And we stopped at the bur eh, and perked ur cur in the yerd eh...

Yeah, great for a laugh in class. Doesn't sound so good in interviews. Drat!

Anonymous said...

So here's a question I think worth asking regarding women in philosophy: suppose you're relatively attractive...play it up or down? It seems you're fucked either way, since pretty girls can't be smart, but attractive people do better on the job market. A male friend of mine thinks play up attractiveness if in a group of males regardless, since libido rules. How depressing.

YFNA

zombie said...

So, no, ANY leather boot would not count as a hooker boot. I'm kind of surprised, I must say, that it is not apparent what sort of boot a "hooker boot" is.

Perhaps, to paraphrase Potter Stewart, a hooker boot is the sort of thing that it hard to define, but you know it when you see it.

Anonymous said...

zombie,

It might have been more clear if you had given us a link to, say, a pic of Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman" instead of the link you did provide. Now them's some hooker boots!

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0100405/

Still, I can't imagine that someone might think this would be appropriate interview attire, but maybe I am overly optimistic here.

YFNA

Xenophon said...

As a guy, my attitude has always been that women can (and do) wear pretty much anything to interviews, conferences, etc. There are clear standards for men (pants not shorts, full-button shirt with precisely one pocket, tie, blazer) but without similarly clear standards for women, it's pretty much anything goes.

I'd say jeans are alright for men or women, as long as they're clean and neat, and long leather boots would be appropriate with jeans. There might be other circumstances where boots would be appropriate, for example an APA in San Antonio, or any candidate who has a teaching persona as a sort of cowboy (or gopi).

In sum, all of this hooker boot stuff seems like an example of the kind of arbitrary standard that worries a lot of candidates, particularly when you say there's no actual definition of a hooker boot. Are there also gigolo pocket protectors that I need to avoid?

Mr. Zero said...

Are there also gigolo pocket protectors that I need to avoid?

Not in my experience. I have found that one must protect his gigolo pockets at all costs.