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The Science Behind: Implicit Bias

As kids, adults teach us to identify danger. "See that shady look man there? Don't go near there." "See that dark alley? That's dangerous"

Whether or not those are actually true, we form an opinion in our minds that shady people and dark alleys are bad. In the future, when we see other people standing around shady people and dark alleys, we automatically label them "bad" sometimes even unconsciously.

And that is implicit bias.

Implicit bias refers to the stereotypes/attitudes that affect our understanding, decisions, actions.

Recently, the Implicit Association Test (IAT) made its way into the news. A big fraction of the people who took this test showed implicit bias, proving that even if you think you're not inclined to think a certain way, you might be.

However, even if the subjects showed low bias, that does not mean that it does not exist. Just because YOU cannot see the color orange, it doesn't mean the color orange doesn't exist.

There is other evidence that proves that implicit bias very much exists. According to Scientific American, "In fact, there is lots of other evidence. There are perceptual illusions, for example, in which white subjects perceive Black faces as angrier than white faces with the same expression. Race can bias people to see harmless objects as weapons when they are in the hands of Black men and to dislike abstract images that are paired with Black faces."

Now, that does not mean EVERY white person unconsciously labels African-Americans as more aggressive. nor does it mean that White people are the ONLY people who have misunderstandings about African-Americans. No two people in the world will have exactly the same opinions about everything. However, it proves that implicit bias is real.

The second misconception is that it detemines someones behavior. If you take the test, and it says that sometimes you might unintentionally judge people by race. It does NOT mean that everytime you see someone of that race, you're going act in a offensive way. It means that IN GENERAL, or 5/10 times you're predicted to act that way. Or if people who got the same result lived in one community, that particular race would be targeted very often.

Another example if a student took a certain test and their result was that they're very logical. That does not mean that they will ALWAYS be logical, or that they will ALWAYS make the logical choice. It means that in their lifetime, MOST of their choices will be logical. Or if you had a classroom full of students like that, it would be a very smart class.

But wait....

Why is implicit bias a problem? If its just in our head, it shouldn't affect anyone, right? Its just in our heads?

Actually implicit bias leads to many decisions. A worker may be rejected because the employer is biased to their race, gender idenitity, or sexual orientation.

It might cause us to create gender roles. Girls are small and cute, boys are big and strong. Girls wear dresses, boys don't. Boys are good at math, girls are good at cooking and cleaning.

None of those sterotypes are true. Girls can be strong, boys can wear dresses, and girls can most definitely love math.

But thats a completely different topic.

In conclusion, implicit bias often starts in our head, but it affects how we think, what we do, and how we react.

So how do we change it?

Implicit bias is not something that can be "fixed" overnight. You can't tear it out of your head, but you can choose not to act on it. When you're in a situation where bias can affect your decisions, take a step back and process your thoughts. Becoming aware of your bias can stop basing decisons off of them.

"It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change." - Charles Darwin.

Some food for thought.

Until next time...

Stay Curious ;)






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