Bias in Evaluation Processes: An Optimization-Based Model

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper


L. Elisa Celis, Amit Kumar, Anay Mehrotra, Nisheeth K. Vishnoi


Biases with respect to socially-salient attributes of individuals have been well documented in evaluation processes used in settings such as admissions and hiring. We view such an evaluation process as a transformation of a distribution of the true utility of an individual for a task to an observed distribution and model it as a solution to a loss minimization problem subject to an information constraint. Our model has two parameters that have been identified as factors leading to biases: the resource-information trade-off parameter in the information constraint and the risk-averseness parameter in the loss function. We characterize the distributions that arise from our model and study the effect of the parameters on the observed distribution. The outputs of our model enrich the class of distributions that can be used to capture variation across groups in the observed evaluations. We empirically validate our model by fitting real-world datasets and use it to study the effect of interventions in a downstream selection task. These results contribute to an understanding of the emergence of bias in evaluation processes and provide tools to guide the deployment of interventions to mitigate biases.