You May Be Biased and Not Know It (and Here’s How to Check)


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Implicit bias, also known as unconscious bias, occurs when stereotypes influence automatic brain processing. We can be susceptible to inherent bias and not even know it.

Fortunately, you can find out if you have such leanings.

Implicit Bias Testing

Harvard’s Project Implicit developed The Implicit Association Test (IAT). The test, created 20 years ago, measures social attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or unable to realize.

The various implicit bias assessments focus on gender, race, skin color, weight, and more. There is no Hispanic/Latino-focused test, though.

implicit bias racial color minority facesBias tests can expose one’s implicit attitudes, of which they are unaware.

For example, you may believe women and men should be equally associated with careers in scientific fields. Yet, your automatic associations could show that you (like many others) associate men with science more than women.

“The Implicit Association Test is controversial because many people believe that racial bias is largely a thing of the past,” Anthony Greenwald, co-creator of the test and a psychology professor at the University of Washington, told Futurity. 

“The test’s finding of a widespread, automatic form of race preference violates people’s image of tolerance and is hard for them to accept. When you are unaware of attitudes or stereotypes, they can unintentionally affect your behavior.”

Over 17 million implicit bias tests had been taken online by October 2015, according to Olivia Goldhill of Quartz.

Still, the test does have its limitations.

“The stability of the test is low, meaning that if you take the same test a few weeks apart, you might score very differently,” according to Scientific American. “And the correlation between a person’s IAT scores and discriminatory behavior is often small.”

Overcoming Implicit Bias

Reducing unconscious attitudes is not an easy task. It’s a permanent, long-term process that needs time and attention.

Strategies to overcome implicit bias are to:

  • Recognize stereotypical thinking
  • Substitute assumptions and biases
  • Get to know and understand individuals
  • Explore new perspectives
  • Be open to increasing opportunity for positive contact
In rural Minnesota, students examined portraits taken by photographer Wing Young Huie and discussed their assumptions about the subjects in the photos. They then explore the concept of implicit bias and create a photography project about implicit bias as it relates to their own identities.

Check out how middle- and high-school students use photography to understand implicit bias and consider how they see themselves and others, via Teaching Tolerance.

Another strategy includes compensating for your bias.

For example, if you have an implicit bias for young people, make a conscious effort to be friendlier to the elderly population.

“Awareness can help to overcome this unwanted influence,” said Greenwald.

Goldhill, who regularly reports on philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience, urges people to understand that bias testing isn’t perfect.

“Instead of looking to implicit bias to eradicate prejudice in society, we should consider it an interesting but flawed tool,” she wrote.

“We need to acknowledge the limitations, to look for other tangible ways to reduce inequality, and to admit that our colleagues, friends, and ourselves might not just be implicitly biased, but might have explicitly racist and sexist tendencies. We should ask people to consciously recognize their prejudicial behavior, and take responsibility for it.”

Editor’s Note: Main image above via Getty Images.

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