Explore: Implicit Bias
What is implicit bias?
Thoughts and feelings are “implicit” if we are unaware of them or mistaken about their nature. We have a bias when, rather than being neutral, we have a preference for (or aversion to) a person or group of people. Thus, we use the term “implicit bias” to describe when we have attitudes towards people or associate stereotypes with them without our conscious knowledge. A fairly commonplace example of this is seen in studies that show that white people will frequently associate criminality with black people without even realizing they’re doing it.
Why does it matter?
The mind sciences have found that most of our actions occur without our conscious thoughts, allowing us to function in our extraordinarily complex world. This means, however, that our implicit biases often predict how we’ll behave more accurately than our conscious values. Multiple studies have also found that those with higher implicit bias levels against black people are more likely to categorize non-weapons as weapons (such as a phone for a gun, or a comb for a knife), and in computer simulations are more likely to shoot an unarmed person. Similarly, white physicians who implicitly associated black patients with being “less cooperative” were less likely to refer black patients with acute coronary symptoms for thrombolysis for specific medical care.
What can we do about it?
Social scientists are in the early stages of determining how to “debias.” It is clear that media and culture makers have a role to play by ceasing to perpetuate stereotypes in news and popular culture. In the meantime, institutions and individuals can identify risk areas where our implicit biases may affect our behaviors and judgments. Instituting specific procedures of decision making and encouraging people to be mindful of the risks of implicit bias can help us avoid acting according to biases that are contrary to our conscious values and beliefs.