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Bias. We see it in the media every day. We see how police officers disproportionately target people of color. We see how COVID-19 affects Latino and Black people more than white people, which has brought racial disparities in healthcare to light.
How do we address this bias?
Many states are turning to mandatory implicit bias training for state employees.
What is implicit bias?
Implicit bias is defined as preconceived notions, or stereotypes, that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions about others—at a level beyond our conscious control, according to a Salud America! research review.
This kind of bias happens when stereotypes influence your brain processing.
Stereotypes like these then influence your actions and judgments:
- A widely held, simplified, and essentialist belief about a specific group (race and ethnicity, language, socioeconomic status, sex, and so forth).
- A pre-judgment of a person based on a group with which she/he may be associated.
- Tended to be set and oversimplified images or ideas.
“Implicit bias has a real-world effect on behavior,” according to the research review. “It impacts employment, education, healthcare, criminal justice, and more.”
Fortunately, implicit biases are malleable.
This means these unconscious associations can be “unlearned” and replaced with new mental associations, according to the Salud America! research review.
“Thus, intervention programs [like training] aimed at “rewiring” implicit biases toward more compassion and understanding for the impoverished and people of color, may lead to more equitable distribution of resources and access to health and wealth opportunity,” according to the research review.
Implicit bias in Policing
In the months since the police killing of George Floyd, several states have highlighted implicit bias training as a part of police reforms.
Implicit bias training for police officers rose in popularity after the Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, according to NPR. Now, most states require police officers to go through a few hours of training each year to address any biases that may affect them on the job.
Connecticut just passed a bill requiring implicit bias training for police officers. State officials, including judicial and probation officers, outside the region of Indianapolis now have to take implicit bias training.
Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey just passed a bill mandating implicit bias training for state, county and municipal law enforcement officials. Police in Louisville, Kentucky, where Breonna Taylor was killed after officers broke into her home, are now required to complete 8 hours of implicit bias training each year, according to Louisville ABC affiliate WHAS11.
State officials feel that implicit bias training will make a substantial difference.
“I hope that educating these very important groups in our criminal justice system will allow us to take a very honest look at the issue of racial disparity and how we can make sure everyone who becomes involved with the legal system will have confidence that we are really true to our word ‘equal justice for all,’” said Madison County Court Judge George Pancol, who will be conducting the implicit bias training for state officials outside of Indianapolis, according to the Herald Bulletin.
Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey felt similarly.
“This action, among other critical reforms led by Attorney General Grewal, is a part of a comprehensive approach to ensure that New Jersey is second to none in demanding the highest standards of accountability and professionalism from our law enforcement officers,” Murphy said, according to the Official Site of the State of New Jersey.
Implicit Bias in Healthcare
Not only does implicit bias affect people of color when at the hands of law enforcement, but also through treatment from healthcare workers.
“Implicit bias plays a huge role. According to the National Academy of Medicine, minorities are less likely than white persons to be given appropriate cardiac care, to receive kidney dialysis or transplants, and to receive the best treatments for stroke, cancer, or AIDS,” writes Samantha Olds Frey, CEO for Illinois Association of Medicaid Health Plans, in an op-ed for the Chicago Defender.
Many studies have shown that physicians—especially white physicians—have implicit, subconscious preferences for white patients over those of color.
This has especially come to light during the COVID-19 pandemic. Latino and Black people comprise over 71% of coronavirus-related deaths among those ages 0-54, according to
“Implicit biases may impact the ways in which clinicians and other health care professionals diagnose and treat people of color, leading to worse outcomes,” say researchers Nao Hagiwara and Tiffany Green in Scientific American.
Several states have moved to require implicit bias training for health care professionals in the hopes of addressing racial inequities.
In July, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill to mandate implicit bias training in health care across her state. Officials in California have taken similar steps to address the disproportionate maternal mortality that Black women face. Physicians in Illinois are lobbying for a bill that would require health care professionals to take an implicit bias training course.
Does Implicit Bias Training Work?
Implicit bias training is growing in popularity, but is it actually working to reduce implicit bias?
The results are mixed.
Implicit bias training can be a useful tool within a comprehensive organizational training program directed toward understanding and addressing individual unconscious bias, according to the Salud America! research review.
Former Louisville police officer Skylar Graudick says that people overestimate the effectiveness of implicit bias training, according to WHAS11.
In a study of the New York Police Department, researchers found that NYPD officers became more aware of their implicit biases and expressed a desire to change them.
But the officers didn’t follow through with it.
“The researchers examined data about NYPD officers’ actions on the job before and after the training. Specifically, they looked at a breakdown of the ethnic disparities among the people who were arrested and had other kinds of interactions with those officers. And in those numbers, they found no meaningful change,” according to NPR.
Some researchers argue that implicit bias training should go beyond just raising awareness.
“Research has shown that people with high external motivation to avoid prejudice (ie, those who are concerned about how they are evaluated by others) were unable to prevent the expression of implicit prejudice; whereas, people with high internal motivation to avoid prejudice (ie, those who personally value egalitarianism) were successful in reducing their implicit prejudice. Thus, implicit bias training should address both providers’ awareness and internal motivation,” wrote researchers Nao Hagiwara, Frederick Kron, Mark Scerbo, and Ginger Watson.
While implicit bias training is important for helping people acknowledge their prejudices, some say it will take more systemic change to address these inequities.
“The first thing is to realize that racism is not just an individual problem requiring an individual intervention, but a structural and organizational problem that will require a lot of work to change. It’s much easier for organizations to offer an implicit bias training than to take a long, hard look and overhaul the way they operate,” according to Scientific American.
What Can You Do About Implicit Bias?
Implicit bias has severe consequences for Latinos and other people of color.
Fortunately, we have the power to overcome this issue.
Check out stories of people who are overcoming biases:
- Dr. Rogelio Saenz overcame implicit bias growing up and in his career. He became a well-respected UT San Antonio researcher using data and demographics to set up social justice solutions.
- Dr. Jabraan Pasha created a training workshop to spread awareness of implicit bias in healthcare.
- Kelly Capatosto and the Kirwan Institute are doing significant research and training on implicit bias.
You also can “rewire” your own implicit bias toward more compassion for others.
Download the free Salud America! “Find Out If You Have Implicit Bias and What to Do Next” Action Pack. This will guide you to see if you have implicit bias, learn from others who have overcome their own implicit bias, and encourage others to learn about implicit bias, too.
The Action Pack was created by Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez, director of Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio.