Implicit Bias


Implicit bias is a concept based on an emerging body of cognitive and neural research. It identifies ways in which unconscious patterns people inevitably develop in their brains to organize information actually “affect individuals’ attitudes and actions, thus creating real-world implications, even though individuals may not even be aware that those biases exist within themselves.”  

The research confirms what many have known or suspected – that years of exposure to structural and cultural racialization and privilege have embedded stereotypes and biases in our individual psyches and the broader culture.  And because of the link among cultural stereotypes and narratives, and systemic policies, practices and behaviors, implicit bias is one part of the system of inequity that serves to justify inequitable polices, practices and behaviors – part of the complex cycle people are trying to disrupt.

Current research on implicit bias offers at least two pieces of good news.  One is that individual neural associations can be changed through specific practices (debiasing).  And, if those biases can be changed at the individual level, by definition they can be changed at the societal level given sufficient will and investment. Work around debiasing can contribute to slowing down or stopping a rapid, almost automatic response, including in very stressful situations.  For those reasons, some practitioners are embedding work on implicit bias in training with law enforcement, teachers, health care providers and juries.  Early evidence indicates doing that can spark behavioral change, a very positive result. The other is that making people aware of the concept of implicit bias seems to open them up to discussions about structural racialization and privilege in new ways. This seems to be a particularly useful way of engaging with people reluctant to participate in those discussions.  

As work has emerged, there is also at least one critique.  Some practitioners are concerned that the idea that some biases are unconscious can give people reasons to back away from accepting responsibility for changing them.  To address that, it may be important for implicit bias to be positioned as one piece of a broader set of understandings about how bias, racism and privilege operate systemically and together.

This section shares implicit bias research and applications, as well as key sites and organizations.  It also includes a link to the Implicit Association test, an on-line tool for individual use. 

Key Sites






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