An implicit bias is a subconscious belief in social psychology. The field frequently discusses ethnic, gender, and sexual orientation social biases.
What Is Implicit Bias?
An implicit bias (also known as an unconscious bias) is a belief that we have without even realizing it. It is the polar opposite of an explicit bias (or conscious bias), which is a belief that we actively recognize in our conscious awareness. With the work of Mahzarin Banaji, Anthony Greenwald, John Dovidio, and Brian Nosek in the 1990s, the term "implicit bias" rose to the forefront of psychological science. Implicit social cognition researchers look at the phenomenon through a variety of lenses, particularly the implicit racial biases that people have toward people of color or other racial groups, the implicit gender stereotypes that people have toward women, and the implicit prejudices that people have toward those with different sexual orientations.
Racial disparities in hiring practices are a typical illustration of implicit bias in the real world: Even though hiring managers will assert that they are completely unbiased in their hiring, in field experiments where identical resumes for two applicants—one a white man and one a Black man—are sent out, the white man will frequently experience a measurably higher callback rate with the same qualifications.
Possible Impacts of Implicit Bias
In many different ways, implicit bias can be extremely harmful. It can:
Cause widespread harm to society: Widespread harm to society can result from implicit biases because they deny certain groups of people equal opportunities and make it harder for them to succeed and be satisfied in life. Widespread disparities could result in the public health care industry, political decision-making bodies, educational institutions, law enforcement, the criminal justice system, the arts, and the workforce, to name just a few.
Damage to those stereotyped: A bias may be explicit, but it still causes damage to the person who is the subject of the stereotype. In addition to physical harm like losing out on a job opportunity or being falsely accused of a crime, harm can also include psychological harm like feeling ashamed, out of place, or unrecognized for who you are as a person. Consistently being the target of implicit stereotypes can have negative effects over time, such as depression, difficulty making friends, withdrawal from groups, and a negative or distorted self-image.
Reduce diversity of thought in groups: The workforce tends to be fairly homogenous in organizations where implicit bias is not addressed in hiring, operating, and promotion practices. By reducing the diversity of backgrounds and converting the area into an echo chamber of similar ideas, this causes significant harm to the organization. The same is true of social groups; when a group is largely homogeneous, it overlooks the value of a diversity of intergroup perspectives.
How to Identify Implicit Bias
Since implicit bias is a belief you don't recognize in yourself, it can be challenging to recognize it in your own life. Here are some techniques for recognizing implicit bias:
Analyze your practices. Do you have any assumptions about any particular friends or coworkers even though you've never spoken to them about it? Have you, as a hiring manager, passed over qualified applicants from underrepresented groups? Do you have certain social circles where you naturally gravitate toward certain people and avoid others? Do you pass judgment on the strangers you encounter or the places you visit when you're out in public? Do the characters you envision when reading novels have a particular appearance—for instance, white or black faces—by default? Are there any media genres you favor or steer clear of? Pay attention to how your decisions and presumptions might be influenced by implicit biases such as those based on race, gender, and other factors in each situation.
Consider subtle examples. Many people only consider overtly racist, sexist, or homophobic examples when considering implicit bias, saying, "I would never do anything like that." Many instances of implicit bias, however, are much more subtle. For example, who you choose to sit next to at lunch or who gets interrupted the most in a meeting are both examples of subtle implicit bias. You're much more likely to spot implicit biases in your own behavior if you use these subtle examples, also known as microaggressions, as your anchor points when thinking about implicit biases.
Realize that denial is not beneficial. Many people's initial response to the idea of implicit bias is denial; they argue that if their explicit attitudes aren't problematic, then their implicit beliefs must not be either. Recognizing that denial is counterproductive and prevents progress—implicit biases are common and normal—is the first step in identifying your own implicit bias. However, they are also avoidable and unacceptable, so it's important that you make a commitment to addressing them.
How to Address Implicit Bias
These are some actions you can take to begin addressing your own implicit biases:
Establish connections with people. Forming genuine, meaningful relationships with people as individuals rather than as representatives of a stereotyped group is the best way to address and overcome implicit biases in yourself. You will discover that everyone has a distinctive and nuanced perspective as you develop closer relationships with people who think differently than you. Additionally, you will have counter-stereotypical experiences that will aid in dispelling any preconceived, binary ideas you may have. You will also gain knowledge of the harm that discriminatory actions and implicit biases can cause.
Make yourself heard; don't be silent. Be open and honest about the existence of implicit biases and how you and others can overcome them, even if it's uncomfortable or challenging at times. Speak up if you notice someone displaying stereotype threat behavior or engaging in unintentional racial discrimination. Others can better understand implicit bias thanks to this. But it impedes your efforts if you're reluctant to speak up or start an intervention.
Enroll in a course on unconscious bias. Unconscious bias training is a type of professional training course that enables you to recognize and address your own implicit biases. It is frequently provided in workplaces or volunteer organizations. Find out if there is certified unconscious bias training available at your place of employment or in your neighborhood, or search online for a reliable group.
Keep a journal for reflection. Consider writing down your thoughts if you are having trouble seeing results in your efforts to address your own implicit bias. You'll become more conscious of your thoughts and be better able to monitor (and see progress in) your work to dismantle your own biases if you regularly add to your journal and go back over earlier entries.