Equity and Inclusion is an ongoing pursuit, and so should education about the issues. This section will focus on specific topics from a national and local level, provide insight from reputable news and education institutions as well as voices from our students and faculty.
Focus On: Implicit Bias
Implicit bias refers to the idea that we often have underlying biases that are affecting our behavior without our awareness. This is also called unconscious stereotyping. The bias results from both our culture and underlying worldview. Even though we may be especially careful not to be explicitly biased, sometimes these underlying beliefs and feelings may be manifested. Culture has oft been compared to the ocean we swim in in that we are continually bathed in the values, beliefs and expectations of our culture. We can, and do, actively resist some of our culture and that contributes over time to change. However, the idea behind implicit biases is that we can still be affected by these cultural beliefs even as we do not agree with them.
In psychology, it is commonly held that stereotypes are inflexible, overgeneralized attitudes that hold wide concordance. Thus we can all agree about the content of a stereotype even if we disagree with the validity of that content. That knowledge about content resides in our brain just as our knowledge about other facets of our world. In times of limited cognitive resources, such as when we are short on time, stressed, or just mentally occupied, we automatically fall back on these cognitive structures as we make judgments or interact in our world. The automaticity of these stereotypes is what makes them so insidious. They are operating at a level below our conscious awareness. We can, of course, bring awareness to our thoughts, but only when we have the time and capability. Much of our time as humans we are operating on autopilot. For instance, we have all experienced the phenomenon whereby you are driving or walking a certain direction and you automatically turn toward home, often without realizing it for a few minutes.
So, let’s imagine you accept the premise of implicit bias – then what? It can lead to a sense of helplessness and inevitability. After all, it is pervasive and below awareness so it seems little can be done. There is some hope though. Bringing awareness to things we are unaware of allows us to combat them when possible, and recognize their real impact when we are unsuccessful. Knowledge of our own implicit biases reminds us to set up safeguards so they do not impact our behavior and to have some humility when confronted with the evidence they have.
Dr. Michele Acker
Otterbein University Department of Psychology