Mahzarin Rustum Banaji was born and raised in India, in the twin cities of Secunderabad and Hyderabad. She attended St. Ann's High School, completed her undergraduate work at Nizam College and received an M.A. in Psychology from Osmania University. She received her Ph.D. from Ohio State University (1986), and was an NIH postdoctoral fellow at University of Washington in Seattle.
From 1986-2001 Banaji taught at Yale University where she was Reuben Post Halleck Professor of Psychology. In 2001 she moved to Harvard University as Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics in the Department of Psychology. She also served as the first Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study from 2002-2008.
In 2005, Banaji was elected fellow of the Society for Experimental Psychologists, in 2008 to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and in 2009 was named Herbert A. Simon Fellow of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.
Banaji is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Psychological Association (Divisions 1, 3, 8 and 9), and the Association for Psychological Science. She served as Secretary of the APS, on the Board of Scientific Affairs of the APA, and on the Executive Committee of the Society of Experimental Social Psychology. Banaji is currently President-elect of the Association for Psychological Science.
Banaji served as Associate Editor of Psychological Review and the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology and co-edited Essays in Social Psychology for Psychology Press. She currently serves on an advisory board of the Oxford University Press on Social Cognition and Social Neuroscience. She has served or serves on the editorial board of several journals, among them Psychological Science, Psychological Review, Perspectives on Psychological Science, Brain and Behavioral Sciences, Social Cognition, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. Banaji was Director of Undergraduate Studies at Yale for many years, and is currently Head Tutor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard. Her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, as well as by private foundations.
Among her awards, she has received Yale's Lex Hixon Prize for Teaching Excellence, a James McKeen Cattell Fund Award, the Morton Deutsch Award for Social Justice, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. In 2000, her work with R. Bhaskar received the Gordon Allport Prize for Intergroup Relations. Her career contributions have been recognized by a Presidential Citation from the American Psychological Association in 2007 and the Diener Award for Outstanding Contributions to Social Psychology in 2009.
Banaji studies human thinking and feeling as it unfolds in social contexts. Her focus is primarily on mental systems that operate in implicit or unconscious mode. In particular, she is interested in the unconscious nature of assessments of self and other humans that reflect feelings and knowledge (often unintended) about their social group membership (e.g., age, race/ethnicity, gender, class) that underlie the us/them distinction.
With Brian Nosek and Anthony Greenwald she maintains an educational website designed to create awareness about unconscious biases in self-professed egalitarians. It can be reached at http://www.implicit.harvard.edu, and details of her research may be found at http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~banaji
From such study of attitudes and beliefs in adults and children, she asks about the social consequences of unconscious thought and feeling. Banaji’s work relies on cognitive/affective behavioral measures and neuroimaging (fMRI) with which she explores the implications of her work for questions of individual responsibility and social justice in democratic societies