Personal Development
Implicit Bias: What it is and Ways to Reduce it

Implicit Bias: What it is and Ways to Reduce it

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Understanding Implicit Bias: What is it and What Are the Implications?

Implicit bias, or unknowing prejudices and behaviors, can have a significant effect on our activities and the decisions we make. By utilizing cognitive shortcuts, or mental shortcuts, we can quickly make decisions based on our beliefs or certain stereotypes without a moment of thought. By understanding implicit social cognition, we can be more aware of our latent attitudes and behaviors, and make more counter-stereotypic and evidence-based decisions. Additionally, the concept of "street smarts", or savvy, can be a tool to recognize implicit bias and make decisions accordingly.

So, what is implicit bias? Implicit bias encompasses feelings, prejudices, and judgments that we hold unconsciously about people or groups. These can be difficult to pinpoint, as they are ingrained in our subconscious through individual experiences, upbringing, and backgrounds. We can have prejudices based on race, sexual orientation, education, or gender, amongst other factors. In the 1970s, the University of Washington's Anthony Greenwald, along with Mahzarin Banaji and Brian Nosek, initiated research on this phenomenon, and discovered how strong these hidden biases truly were, and that it is possible to have explicit attitudes that are not in alignment with your unconscious bias.

The Implicit Association Test (IAT) was created by social science researchers in the 1990s to measure the strength of cognitive shortcuts. This test uses images, words, and key presses to determine associations. For instance, if a person is quicker to associate chocolate with good than they are to associate vanilla with good, one could infer that they have an unconscious preference for chocolate. These cognitive shortcuts continue to form, either consciously or unconsciously, based on our daily experiences.

Discussion of Implicit Racial Bias

Implicit racial bias can be hard to reconcile with stereotypes, however, it is possible to discover the latent dispositions. To uncover implicit racial bias, a participant might be instructed to associate faces with either positive or negative words. If they are quicker to associate black faces with negative words, this could indicate an unconscious bias.

The implications of implicit bias can be just as problematic as explicit bias, due to the speed at which biases can affect our decisions. Implicit bias is not equivalent to racism, as racism is explicit bias. Unconscious prejudices are measured via the IAT. It is important to be aware of our biases, as implicit biases can affect the decisions we make, though we may not even be aware of them.

What is Implicit Bias?

Even the most well-intentioned individual can engage in discriminatory behavior without being aware of their biases. Research has found that people of color can even exhibit a preference for white faces over black faces. This type of implicit bias has far-reaching implications and can lead to devastating blindspots in areas like healthcare. Latinos and black patients may be treated unfairly or not given the same care as their white counterparts based on a particular perception � this phenomenon is often referred to as stereotype threat and can lead to long-term mental health impacts.

How to Recognize Your Implicit Bias

When it comes to implicit bias, it's important to recognize our own prejudice and to be conscious of its presence in our daily lives. Discovering a bias does not always mean one is racist, sexist or homophobic � rather, it implies that our brains have adopted a narrative as a shortcut. It's important to explore the source of these unconscious attitudes and to make an effort to step into the shoes of another person � this can help foster psychological flexibility and compassion.

Impact of Implicit Bias Training Programs

A meta-analysis of implicit bias programs has found that they often don't make the bias go away. Instead, these types of trainings can actually have a detrimental effect on those from under-represented backgrounds, making it more difficult for them to succeed. In order for programs to be effective, they must focus on teaching participants to manage their biases, change their behavior, and track their progress.

Managing and Reducing Bias for Long-Term Impact

The Harvard Business Review recommends trainings that go beyond just educating participants about their biases. It's not realistic to look for a 'magic list' of ways to become immune to implicit bias, but taking the time to recognize our own prejudices can help us become better informed individuals. We can also take conscious action to reduce our biases, making for a lasting and valuable impact.

Challenging Unconscious Biases

Although it may be difficult to become aware of personal biases, it is worth the effort. With knowledge of cognitive bias and proper steps to overcome it, individuals and organizations can help prevent perpetuating bias in the recruitment process.

What is Cognitive Bias?

Cognitive bias is a preconceived notion or thought that affects our decisions. It is typically formed by our past experiences, social conditioning, and other environmental factors. It is essential to understand these biases to recognize where they come from and how to control the behaviors that result from them.

Recognizing and Preventing Biases

Recognizing and preventing biases in the recruitment process is paramount in order to create a diverse team. It is also important to be aware of gender bias when it comes to women occupying leadership positions and the effect of this bias on women leaving the tech industry. Furthermore, proximity bias is a bias that often goes unnoticed when teams are separated. To combat this, it is important to recognize this tendency and strive to treat everyone equally.


Challenging unconscious biases helps create a more inclusive environment. By understanding cognitive bias, individuals and organizations can take steps to recognize and prevent biases in the recruitment process, open the door for women to assume leadership positions, and strive to treat everyone fairly.

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