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Description: Have you run across the term/concept of implicit bias? Simply put, implicit bias is typically taken to refer to unconscious tendencies people have to associate some traits, characteristics, or behaviors with other people based upon surface or first-look attributes such as age, gender, or race. Depending upon social circumstance such biases may be somewhat innocuous (e.g., aged/slow versus young/fast) or, more concernedly, they may lean toward being agist, gender-biased, or racist. There are online sites where you can take an implicit association test. If you have not taken such a test and decide to do so go ahead but don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out what it may or may not mean until after you have finished reading this and the article linked below. The question you should consider is: what is implicit bias or what is it reflective of? One suggestion is that implicit bias tests reveal bits of unconscious racism (or agism or gender-bias) held by individuals and can point to a need to reflect upon one’s perspectives on matters of rage or age or gender or whatever. This suggests a link between implicit bias and stereotypes and prejudice and as such suggests that one’s implicit bias test results could be viewed as individual calls for reflective action to root out and remove one’s biases. It IS true that human cognition (including social cognition) contains biases meaning that our mind takes shortcuts or simplifies or stereotypes how we read or “perceive” meaning in the world around us. This is generally an advantage as if we had to treat every single perceptual glimpse of the world as entirely unique we would be incredibly slow thinkers and we would miss patterns and organizations in the world around us. Add to this that when we are considering the social world of people, language, history and culture we are doing so utilizing the main tool we have learned and internalized for doing that, our language. Our language has a history outside of our personal experience and its organization is, in many ways, a map of our history/culture and as such some words are more typically collocated (found or used) near one another in ways that assume or presuppose certain connections or meanings. So how would this may onto the concept of implicit bias? In other words, how responsible should we hold individuals for implicit biases that may be noted in their implicit bias test results (which are, in fact, quite variable/unstable). Further, how might implicit bias and prejudice be linked? Think about these questions for a little bit and then read the article linked below to see what a social psychology research suggests.

Source: How should we think about implicit bias? Paul Bloom, The Globe and Mail.

Date: March 3, 2023

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

Article Link:

So, what are your take-aways from the linked article regarding implicit bias? As I noted above, there is no question about the fact that our thought processes contain biases. A challenge when trying to sort out what this might mean and, following that, what we should do to be unbiassed is related to the growing tendency within western thought (and psychology) to interpret all of these sorts of psychological phenomena on the individual level as in if your implicit bias test results suggest you have implicit bias then you need to notice this, come to terms with it and stop it or at least to feel some guilt about being caught out as biased by the test. I think we DO need to think about our test results but in doing so we also need to think about the possible overlaps and differences between implicit bias and conscious prejudice. They ARE linked thorough socio-cultural history and language but the relationship is a complicated one that requires a lot of thought and work as do all versions of systemic prejudice (racism, agism, gender-bias, etc.). So keep at it!

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is implicit bias and what are some examples of it?
  2. How might implicit bias be related to basic human cognitive processes on one hand and conscious prejudice on another?
  3. How do you think people should approach, think about and deal with implicit bias in themselves and others?

References (Read Further):

Gawronski, B. (2019). Six lessons for a cogent science of implicit bias and its criticism. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 14(4), 574-595. Link

Jolls, C., & Sunstein, C. R. (2006). The law of implicit bias. Calif. L. Rev., 94, 969. Link

Greenwald, A. G., & Krieger, L. H. (2006). Implicit bias: Scientific foundations. California law review, 94(4), 945-967. Link

Pritlove, C., Juando-Prats, C., Ala-Leppilampi, K., & Parsons, J. A. (2019). The good, the bad, and the ugly of implicit bias. The Lancet, 393(10171), 502-504. Link

Staats, C. (2016). Understanding implicit bias: What educators should know. American Educator, 39(4), 29. Link

Vuletich, H. A., & Payne, B. K. (2019). Stability and change in implicit bias. Psychological science, 30(6), 854-862. Link

Hauser, D. J., & Schwarz, N. (2022). Implicit bias reflects the company that words keep. Frontiers in Psychology, 13. Link

De Houwer, J. (2019). Implicit bias is behavior: A functional-cognitive perspective on implicit bias. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 14(5), 835-840. Link

Greenwald, A. G., Dasgupta, N., Dovidio, J. F., Kang, J., Moss-Racusin, C. A., & Teachman, B. A. (2022). Implicit-bias remedies: Treating discriminatory bias as a public-health problem. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 23(1), 7-40. Link

Holroyd, J., Scaife, R., & Stafford, T. (2017). What is implicit bias?. Philosophy Compass, 12(10), e12437. Link