Implicit Bias

November 30, 2019
By Stacey S. Joseph for ImpactEDI™

An implicit bias is an unconscious association, belief, attitude toward, or stereotype of a social group. When Implicit Bias and stereotyping are at work, people often attribute certain characteristics or qualities to all members of a particular group.  Where explicit biases or prejudices are intentional and obvious, thus easy to identify, confront, and in most cases control; implicit biases operate or manifest almost entirely on an unconscious level, making them more difficult to recognize and control. As a result, implicit bias can unknowingly and negatively shape an organization’s culture and climate, and hinder diversity by adversely affecting recruiting, retention, and inclusion.

3 Key Things to Know About Implicit Bias

Implicit bias is pervasive. Everyone carries implicit biases with them in different forms, towards different groups. On a basic level, they allow us to categorize people and things efficiently, without conscious thought. It’s common to all of us and is not a personal defect.

Implicit bias is not the same thing as conscious prejudice. Implicit biases do not necessarily align with our explicitly held beliefs. Thus, implicit bias is distinct from conscious prejudice. Even those who champion justice and equality may have positive or negative implicit biases towards certain groups.

Implicit bias is malleable. We can change! Although no one is immune from making judgments driven by implicit bias, our implicitly held beliefs are malleable and thus, with effort and time, can be unlearned.Implicit Bias.png

4 Quick Tips on Reducing Implicit Bias

There is no doubt that implicit biases can have an impact on how you behave toward others.  The good news is, there are things that you can do to reduce your own bias.  Here are a few:

Focus on seeing people as individuals.  Rather than focusing on stereotypes to define people, spend time considering them on a more personal, individual level.

Work on consciously changing your stereotypes.  If you do recognize that your response to a person might be rooted in biases or stereotypes, make an effort to consciously adjust your response.

Adjust your perspective.  Try seeing things from another person’s point of view.  How would you respond if you were in the same position?  What factors might contribute to how a person acts in a particular setting or situation?

“Flip the script.” When you notice yourself having a particularly strong and negative thought about a person or situation involving a person or persons who may not belong to your “in group,” flip the script!  Flip how the scene is playing out in your thoughts by substituting yourself or another person that belongs to your “in group” in place of the person toward or about whom you may be having negative thoughts.  See if your judgement is that same. In most cases it won’t be.

The IAT Test

If you’re interested in exploring your implicit biases further, take the Implicit Association Test.  The Implicit Association Test (IAT; Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998) has become a very popular method to use for measuring the strengths of associations between concepts, in an indirect way. It’s typically used to measure the strength of associations between an attitude object and its valence. IATs measure the relative ease with which people are able to make associations between certain groups of people (e.g., older adults) and the concepts of “good” and “bad.”

Ease of association, measured by judgment speed, is taken as evidence for an implicitly-held attitude toward that social group. It is a useful tool for measuring a variety of attitudes including gender, race, and political constructs (Nosek, Greenwald, & Banaji, 2005).  Over 200 scientific studies have been published using the IAT and more than 4.5 million have taken the IAT on-line.  The IAT has demonstrated to be both reliable and valid at detecting an individual’s level of implicit bias.  You can access the IAT from this website.

If you’re interested in Implicit Bias Training for your organization or community, reach out to ImpactEDI™ here.


Image provided by Getty Images – Video credit: Ethics Unwrapped ©2018 The University of Texas at Austin – All Rights Reserved


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