By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
In the wake of the "Brexit" vote for Great Britain to leave the European Union, the country has seen an unprecedented increase in xenophobic sentiments, with reports pointing out anti-immigrant leaflets, racially motivated crimes, and comments on the street. Across the pond, the U.S. has seen a similar rise in anti-hispanic and anti-muslim attacks and even murders, drawing inspiration according to some reports from the rhetoric of GOP nominee, Donald Trump. In both the U.K. and the U.S., it is highly likely that the views were already there long before Trump or the "Leave" campaign tapped into them. So it is not so much that the U.S. presidential contest or the "Brexit" campaign caused those feelings, as it is that they disinhibited expressions of those feelings. "Disinhibition" refers to the temporary and situational weakening of social constraints against something. So the British or American xenophobes had, in effect, been thinking, "I have this hate, but society demands that I hide it, so I will...But wait, it seems to be gaining a mainstream respectability lately, and prominent people are giving voice to the same views, so I am going to be more comfortable in letting it out."
While the "Brexit" and "Trump" effects are specific to racism, it is likely that many other biases work in the same way. Biases exist to a greater or lesser degree across large parts of the population, but are more manifest under conditions that disinhibit that bias. Jurors who carry a bias against large corporations, for example, might try to suppress that feeling and treat all parties as equal under the law, unless it seems like everyone else is also biased against the company, and then the leash is off! Litigators and consultants need to be students of bias, focusing not only on what bias is and where to find it, but also focusing on what leads to it being either suppressed or expressed. In this post, I will share some thoughts and research on disinhibition and what it means to deliberating jurors.