Implicit Bias | Part 5: Bias Feedback

When I impersonate conservatives, I (apparently) do it with a southern US accent (e.g., “‘Merica!”, “Don’t mess with Texas!”, etc.). I don’t intentionally adopt the accent. In fact, I never even knew I was doing it until my partner pointed it out to me! Without my partner’s third-person perspective, I might never have noticed. I might have just continued mocking conservatism. In fact, that wouldn’t be surprising given what we learned in this series [Part 1 – Part 5]. So if we want to do something about our biases, then we would do well to seek this kind of third-personal feedback. Let’s call it bias feedback.


The bias feedback I received from my partner can be characterized as bottom-up and informal. Bottom up because it came from a peer rather than from a position of authority. And informal because it happened freely in ordinary conversation rather than as part of some kind of compulsory process. Many people are uncomfortable with informal, bottom-up feedback. So if informal, bottom-up feedback is to be accepted in some contexts, then it might have to be integrated into that context’s culture. There might be a few ways to do this. Continue reading Implicit Bias | Part 5: Bias Feedback

Implicit Bias | Part 4: Debiasing

At this point it’s pretty clear why someone would be worried. We’re biased (Part 1). We don’t have total control over our bias (Part 2).  And our bias seems to tamper with significant, real-world decisions (Part 3). So now that we’re good and scared, let’s think about what we can do! It’s time to talk about debiasing!


In the last post, we learned that implicit attitudes and stereotypes can badly affect our judgments. One way to cultivate implicit attitudes and stereotypes is conditioning: repeatedly present someone with a pair of stimuli until they begin to associate one thing with the other (De Houwer, Thomas, and Baeyens 2001; Hofmann, De Houwer, Perugini, Baeyens, and Crombez 2010). So, for example, if someone consumes media that repeatedly presents certain ideas or groups in a negative light, then they will cultivate a negative implicit attitude of these ideas or groups (Arendt 2013; Arendt & Northup 2015; Matthes & Schmuk 2015). Or if a certain profession is dominated by white men, then people will associate membership in this profession with being white and male — and this might have a self-reinforcing effect on the profession’s makeup.

It turns out that we can use this mechanism of conditioning against our biases. It’s called counterconditioning and it could be a useful debiasing tool (Stewart, Latu, Kawakami, and Myers 2010; VansteenWagen, Baeyens, and Hermans 2015). One fairly easy and effective way to countercondition a negative stereotype is just to Continue reading Implicit Bias | Part 4: Debiasing

Implicit Bias | Part 3: Workplace Bias

Think about decisions that people make every day. A committee decides who to hire. A supervisor rates an employee’s performance. A teacher grades a student’s assignment. A jury arrives at a verdict. A Supreme Court judge casts their vote. An emergency medical technician decides which victim to approach first. A police officer decides whether to shoot. These are instances in which workplace bias can have significant consequences.

I won’t be able to highlight every area of research on workplace bias. So I cannot delve into the findings that police officers’ sometimes show racial bias in decisions to shoot (Sim, Correll, and Sadler 2013, Experiment 2; see Correll et al 2007, Ma and Correll 2011 Study 2 for findings that indicate no racial bias). And I cannot go into detail about how all-white juries are significantly more likely than other juries to convict black defendants (Anwar, Bayer, Hjalmarsson 2012).


Instead, I’ll focus on the instances of workplace bias to which most people can relate. If you’re like most people, then you need to work to live, right? So let’s talk about how bias can affect our chances of being hired. Continue reading Implicit Bias | Part 3: Workplace Bias

Implicit Bias | Part 2: What is implicit bias?

If our conscious reasoning were biased, then we’d notice it, right? Not quite. We are conscious of very few (if any) of the processes that influence our conscious reasoning. Some unconscious processes bias our conscious reasoning in measurable ways. This is sometimes referred to as implicit bias. In this post, I’ll talk about the theory behind our implicit biases and mention a couple (kind of scary) findings.

Disclaimer: The literature on implicit bias is vast (and steadily growing). So there’s no way I can review it all here. To find even more research on implicit bias, see the next two posts, the links in this series, and the links in the comments.†


There are a few ways to discover and gauge implicit biases. One way is the implicit association test (IAT) [Wikipedia]. The IAT is a categorization task. The task  Continue reading Implicit Bias | Part 2: What is implicit bias?

Implicit Bias | Part 1: Bias Anxiety

The research on implicit bias is kind of scary. The research suggests that most people are biased. Worse, the research suggests that we are unaware of some of our biases. And further, the research suggests that our behavior is biased despite our conscious efforts to be unbiased. So I could be doing harm despite my best efforts not to do no harm! So yeah: I’m anxious. In this post — the first in a series about implicit bias — I’ll be talking about this bias anxiety.

In future posts, I’ll talk about the theory behind our implicit biases [Part 2], how implicit bias impacts the workplace [Part 3], over 25 practical debiasing tips from the scientific research [Part 4], and the practice of giving an encouraging feedback about our biases [Part 5].


Bias anxiety usually strikes me at the Continue reading Implicit Bias | Part 1: Bias Anxiety