Office of Faculty Development and Diversity

FAQ on Implicit Bias

FAQ on Implicit Bias

What is implicit bias?

An implicit bias is a positive or negative mental attitude towards a person, thing, or group that a person holds at an unconscious level. In contrast, an explicit bias is an attitude that somebody is consciously aware of having. Research has found that our implicit and explicit biases often diverge. For example, a person may consciously express a neutral or positive opinion about a social group that they unconsciously hold a negative opinion about.

Where did the idea of implicit bias come from?

In 1995 social psychologists Anthony Greenwald and Mahzarin Banaji proposed the idea that social behavior may not always be under a person’s conscious control. They argued that much of our behavior is driven by stereotypes that operate automatically and therefore, unconsciously. In 1997 they developed the Implicit Association Test (IAT), a computer-based test that measures people’s unconscious attitudes. Since then over 200 studies have been published using the IAT. Overall, the IAT has been shown to be both reliable and valid at detecting an individual’s level of implicit bias.

How does the IAT work?

The IAT asks people to complete several tasks where they are asked to quickly pair two concepts together. For example, you might be asked to pair “women” with “math” or “women” with “liberal arts.” Scoring of the IAT assumes that the more closely you associate two concepts in your mind, the faster you will be able to pair them together on the task. The IAT measures your reaction times and calculates a score accordingly. For more detailed information about the IAT and how it works please visit: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/demo/background/index.jsp

How common are implicit biases?

Since 1998, over 4.5 million people haven taken the Implicit Association Test (IAT) online. This data strongly suggests that many people hold implicit biases towards members of particular groups. For example, over 80% of people who completed an IAT on age bias demonstrated a negative implicit bias against the elderly. In addition, about 75% of Whites and Asians demonstrated an implicit bias in favor of Whites compared to Blacks.

Where do implicit biases come from?

Psychologists believe that the content of our implicit biases are learned from the society in which we live. From a very early age, we are exposed to certain ideas over and over from the people we interact with and from the media. Over time these ideas become so ingrained in us that they are activated automatically without us realizing it.

Why are implicit biases important?

Over 200 published studies using the IAT have shown that implicit bias can influence behavior in important ways. For example, IAT scores can predict how we treat members of another race, whether we are likely to binge drink, and even whether we are likely to attempt suicide. In addition, several studies have shown that implicit biases can significantly affect the way people evaluate job candidates. We believe that by becoming more aware of implicit bias and how it can influence decisions, people may be able to limit the influence that implicit bias has on their own behavior. This the rationale behind the REDE program.

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