Like it or not, you can't ignore how people look or sound

A new study from Ohio State University details implicit bias.

Like it or not, you can't ignore how people look or sound
Photo: fizkes / Shutterstock
  • New research from Ohio State claims we cannot separate how someone looks and sounds.
  • Volunteers were asked to look at photos and listen to audio, and were told to ignore their face or voice.
  • "They were unable to entirely eliminate the irrelevant information," said associate professor Kathryn Campbell-Kibler.

Postmates is a way of life in Los Angeles. So when a young Black driver recently crossed paths with a woman outside of her building while delivering food to another apartment, you might initially be shocked at her response. While the woman claims her reaction is not racist—not only does she refuse him entry, but after he calls the apartment and talks to the man on other line, she even denies that he lives in the building—her use of the term "boy" says it all.

Would she have reacted similarly if the driver was white? While no definitive answer can be given, a new study from Ohio State University finds that his race is not only an issue, the woman would have not been able to ignore it even if she wanted to.

The distance between implicit and explicit bias has been studied for years. In this research, published in Journal of Sociolinguistics, Associate Professor Kathryn Campbell-Kibler, in the Department of Linguistics at OSU, asked 1,034 volunteers to look at photos and listen to audio of people speaking to determine if they immediately judged someone by their looks or accents.

Almost across the board, they did.

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In some cases, volunteers were told to evaluate how "good-looking" the people in the photos were; in others, they were asked to judge their accents. One cohort was not given guidance; they looked at a photo and listened to a voice. Others were told to ignore the face while listening, and vice-versa. Some were even told that the voice was not from the same person they were looking at.

It didn't matter. In most cases, volunteers expressed critical judgment of either their face or voice. As Campbell-Kibler says,

"Even though we told them to ignore the voice, they couldn't do it completely. Some of the information from the voice seeped into their evaluation of the face."

Detaching face from voice is a difficult endeavor. The first time I heard Welsh actor Matthew Rhys' true accent was while watching "The Wine Show," which he filmed shortly after wrapping up work on "The Americans." It took me a few minutes to rationalize what I was seeing. Now I can't get his actual speaking voice out of my head while watching the drunken private investigator transform into the lawyer we knew Perry Mason would become.

Jonathan Gartrelle (L), participating in a protest against police brutality, confronts a demonstrator taking part in a counter demonstration advertised as a Law and Order Rally that was also supporting President Donald Trump on June 14, 2020 in Miami, Florida.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Rhys is paid to speak English with an American accent. The stakes are low for me as a viewer. Out in the real world, where racism is as prevalent as ever, the situation is different. Implicit bias affects everyone, which means racism and xenophobia are conditions we have to work at correcting in ourselves. It won't come natural. Campbell-Kibler continues,

"We found that people could exercise some control over what information to favor, the voice or the face, depending on what we told them to do. But in most cases, they were unable to entirely eliminate the irrelevant information."

She notes that even though most participants were white, they were careful to not racially stereotype. Volunteers told to ignore faces while listening to accents performed best for this reason, though some admitted they had to make a conscious effort to do so.

Volunteers took no issue with judging the photos good-looking, believing looks to be subjective. Campbell-Kibler wants to follow up this research using videos instead of photographs to observe the impact of watching others on the screen.

The takeaway: we are influenced by all of the information available to us at all times. Our biases will make themselves apparent. Course-correcting is not natural, but thankfully, it is possible.


Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter, Facebook and Substack. His next book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."

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It marks a breakthrough in using gene editing to treat diseases.

Credit: National Cancer Institute via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.

For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.

The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.

The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.

One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.

Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.

Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).

Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.

A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.

We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.


"This is a major milestone for patients," Jennifer Doudna, co-developer of CRISPR, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR.

"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.

What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.

The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.

A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.

This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.


If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.

Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.

"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."