Brains and Biases: Bringing Emotional Intelligence to America’s Courts

Charles Schudson’s session on brains and biases was a preview of a course he teaches that he dubs “not another program on race and gender ‘sensitivity.'” More than anything, the session was an interesting discussion of recent breakthroughs into the physical manifestation of cognitive/emotional behaviors, and a quick journey through articles and other literature and cinema that reveal, and teach us about, our implicit biases and emotional intelligence.

First, he challenged us all to participate (on our own) in an online test that may demonstrate biases – which he described as “fool-proof” and, for him, humbling. The one he mentioned that is currently available online is here. He said we are ordained, as part of our biology and self-preservation, to harbor biases; therefore, it is important to acknowledge and recognize bias, and be conscious of its potential impact on decisions, relationships – all aspects of our professional and personal lives.

That said, Schudson also described recent research into the physical manifestations of cognitive/emotional behaviors that demonstrate, with the same speed we adopt prejudices, humans can dissolve them. Because judges’ decision-making is done in isolation, he noted that biases are particularly dangerous in the courtroom.

To demonstrate the impact of emotional intelligence in the workplace and other parts of our lives, Schudson asked everyone in the packed room to write one word on a Post-it Note that best described the individual who was most influential in his or her life. On the left side of a column on an easel he wrote “IQ”; in the next column, “Education”; in the third column, “Other”, and he asked everyone to place their Post-it in the column that best characterized the one word. After half of the room overwhelmingly (95%) placed their one-word description in the “Other” column, the other half of the room deferred.

What Schudson demonstrated is what studies at Harvard, Stanford, Carnegie and other institutions have shown: What is most powerful and motivates us the most in the workplace and our lives are emotional traits – understanding, sympathy – of an emotionally sophisticated individual, and the unquantifiable human connection we share.

Back to a more left-brain analysis, he suggests that emotional intelligence also empowers an individual to carefully identify and integrate appropriate emotional factors when evaluating behavior and making decisions; accurately identify and segregate inappropriate emotional factors when evaluating behavior and making decisions; and recognize (in oneself and others) the consequences of ignoring or suppressing the emotional factors that often establish relationships, control behavior, and determine decisions.

More information on Charles Schudson and his seminars can be found at