The United States (and much of the world) is engaged in a profound re-examination of race, racism and the systemic bias that has largely been deemed “not a big deal” by many white people and experienced as trauma and violence by persons of color. Key to these issues is implicit bias – the hidden attitudes and associations that can impact behavior without our conscious awareness. Jennifer Eberhardt, author of “Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do,” says that implicit biases arise out of the brain’s need to make sense of the world. “The brain needs to sort everything—the food we eat, the furniture we use, whatever. We also sort people. That sorting can lead to bias; once we have categories, we have beliefs and feelings about what’s in those categories.”
Many people wonder, “If I have these implicit biases, can I get rid of them?”
The bad news is that simply becoming aware of your implicit biases does not eliminate them. Eberhardt suggests slowing down your thinking and action. Implicit biases operate most often when people are making quick decisions and taking action in an instant.
Psychologist Anthony Greenwald, in an interview originally published in Knowable Magazine, favors discretion elimination. This means setting up procedures to ensure that objective criteria are used instead of subjective judgment. For example, discretion elimination in recruitment involves not identifying anything about the candidates that could trigger bias (gender, race, etc.) when screening potential new hires.
“We’re living in a society where we’re absorbing images and ideas all the time and it takes over who we are and how we see the world,” says Eberhardt. Though it can be frustrating to admit this reality, it is vital that each of us understand the biases our brains hold and work to eliminate them or avoid their impact on others.
Have a best practice to overcome implicit bias? Comment below or share it in a message.
Photo by Natasha Connell on Unsplash
Thanks so much for including the link to Greenwald’s article on discretion elimination. I had heard of, and have taken the implicit bias tests, I had not read up on the discretion elimination. I am pondering how we could use this at our company as we build a DEI committee.
Thanks, Erin! I was fascinated with that article as well. The premise is that people can’t really impact their implicit biases, so the systems need to prevent them from kicking in. I think it’s both a challenging and exciting step forward in research and practice.
Thank you for a great piece.
Good article! I definitely sort and categorize things. I can see how sorting people can lead to bias.