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Diving into our Biases

10/15/20 | Emily Murray

Whether or not we are consciously aware of it, we have implicit biases affecting how we think and act in our everyday life. Implicit biases are attitudes or stereotypes that affect us in unconscious ways. They affect our thoughts, decisions, and actions. Implicit biases impact all industries, particularly in health care, education, and the criminal justice system. Since implicit biases affect us in so many ways, it is important we work to debiasing our biases. Let's start with three interesting facts about implicit biases:

  1. Implicit biases are subconscious and involuntary. We do not have control over our implicit biases—they are located deep in our subconscious. We have developed these biases over the course of our lives, and they influence us even without our awareness. There is no way to rid ourselves of implicit biases either since they are a part of our minds. However, we can work to outsmart our implicit biases. (See below.)

  2. Implicit biases do not necessarily align with our personal beliefs. We are exposed to many stereotypes out in the world: at school, at work, in the media, and within our communities. Whether or not we believe these stereotypes to be true, they affect our subconscious and what we involuntarily assume about others. Three scientists created the Implicit Bias Association Test (IAT) in 1998 that maps our subconscious thoughts and feelings for us. One IAT relates gender to science and it finds many people associate females to the liberal arts and males to science. Female scientists often take the IAT and report an automatic preference for females in the liberal arts...despite their own personal reality.

  3. We recognize faces from our own racial/ethnic groups more easily than other races. It may not surprise you to hear that we are most comfortable around people whom we are familiar. Our implicit biases start developing at infancy. Studies have shown that if an infant's primary caretaker is female, toddlers will have an implicit preference for females. At 9 months old, infants can tell apart two faces of their same race better than two faces of another race. These examples illustrate how innate and involuntary implicit biases are and make it easy to understand why we cannot just wish them away.


You may be curious of how to outsmart your implicit biases. It starts first with acknowledging our biases and taking a sense of accountability. The second step is learning about the stereotypes we each hold, and how our implicit biases feed off them. Third is to expose ourselves to people who are counter-stereotypic individuals and practice showing our minds that we cannot count on the stereotype. We additionally can expose ourselves to different experiences and appreciate the perspectives of others.


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