Entry by Lauren Nader
Implicit bias can be defined as ‘a bias or prejudice that is present but not consciously held or recognized’ (Merriam-Webster, 2021). In addition to this, it can be said that we use the term ‘to describe when we have attitudes towards people or associate stereotypes with them without our conscious knowledge’ (Perception Institute, 2019).
Essentially, ‘implicit bias’ refers to a bias that an individual can hold which influences the way that they think regarding someone or something. For example, a white woman may cross the road if she finds herself walking on the same side as a Black man on a quiet street. This is a good example of implicit bias because it shows how white people will associate criminality with black people without even realising they’re doing it.
It is important to know that implicit bias is not limited by race, gender, class, or country of origin.
When exploring the origins of the term ‘implicit bias’, it should be regarded that it was first coined by social psychologists Mahzarin Banaji and Tony Greenwald in 1995. In an ground-breaking paper introducing their theory of implicit social cognition, the pair proposed that ‘social behavior was largely influenced by unconscious associations and judgments’ (Cherry, 2020). Although this is quite a new body of research, it highlights an interesting point that in a lot of cases the individual is unaware of their behaviour. This indicates that stereotyping needs to be cleverly worked on in order to reach a subconscious level of understanding. People may not realise that they hold certain biases, therefore self-reflection is crucial in order to identify where they occur. In 1998, Banaji and Greenwald created the implicit attitude test in order to show individuals if they possessed any unconscious biases. A word would be displayed on the screen on a computer program and the participant would select the race that is most associated with that particular word (Cherry, 2020). By creating a test that individuals could use not only allowed an opportunity to test their hypothesis but also gave individuals the chance to notice any biases which they may consist of. It helps to bring attention to their unconscious thoughts.
Since the mid-90s, psychologists have extensively researched implicit biases, revealing that, without even knowing it, we all possess our own implicit biases.
Kahneman (2011) distinguishes between two types of thinking: system 1 and system 2.
- System 1 is the brain’s fast, emotional, unconscious thinking mode. This type of thinking requires little effort, but it is often error prone. Most everyday activities (like driving, talking, cleaning, etc.) make heavy use of the type 1 system.
- System 2 is slow, logical, effortful, conscious thought, where reason dominates.
(Ruhl. C, 2020)
Implicit Bias in relation to pedagogy and higher education
Implicit bias within universities can come in the form of professors’ attitudes towards students. For example, lecturers can hold assumptions about students’ learning behaviors and their capability for academic success which are tied to students’ identities and/or backgrounds, and these assumptions can impede student growth (Staats et. al, 2017; Yale.edu, 2009). While there are many universities who are rolling out training courses to enable staff to build an understanding of what unconscious bias means, where it comes from and the influence it has on decision-making’ (FE News, 2020), further research is needed in the area in order to create adequate policies and methods of tackling bias. It is also not only staff that require this kind of training but students as well.
Cherry, K. (2020). Is It Possible to Overcome Implicit Bias? [online] Available at: https://www.verywellmind.com/implicit-bias-overview-4178401#:~:text=The%20term%20implicit%20bias%20was
FE News (2020). The impact of unconscious bias in higher education. [online] Available at: https://www.fenews.co.uk/exclusive/the-impact-of-unconscious-bias-in-higher-education/
Merriam-Webster (2021). Merriam-Webster Dictionary. [online] Available at: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/implicit%20bias
Ruhl, C. (2020). Implicit or unconscious bias. [online] www.simplypsychology.org. Available at: https://www.simplypsychology.org/implicit-bias.html
Perception Institute (2019). Implicit Bias Explained – Perception Institute. [online] Perception Institute. Available at: https://perception.org/research/implicit-bias/
Yale.edu (2009). Awareness of Implicit Biases | Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning. [online] Available at: https://poorvucenter.yale.edu/ImplicitBiasAwareness
De Houwar, J. (2019). Implicit Bias Is Behavior: A Functional-Cognitive Perspective on Implicit Bias, Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications (implicit bias from a psychological perspective)
Harvard.edu (2013). Project Implicit. [online] Available at: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/ (a test to see if you have any implicit biases regarding social attitudes to help you discover any of them – NOTE: email registration is required)
Johnson, Michael A ; Stevenson, Regan M ; Letwin, Chaim R. (2018). A woman’s place is in the… startup! Crowdfunder judgments, implicit bias, and the stereotype content model, AMSTERDAM: Elsevier Inc (an article about implicit bias towards women)
Questions to ask
- Do you think that you have any implicit biases?
- What could you do to remove any implicit biases that you may have?