Implicit-gavel

The Brain Science that is Revolutionizing
the Way We Think About Racial Disparities and Racism

An implicit bias is an unconscious (positive or negative) mental attitude toward a person, object, or group. New scientific research is documenting that we all are influenced by these unconscious biases and that they can dictate our behavior without our approval or awareness.

Unconscious Brain

11000000

Conscious Brain

40

Our unconscious brain is flooded with approximately 11 million pieces of information a second; but our conscious brain can only process approximately 40 single pieces of information per second.

Our brains are able to make up for the gap between the number of stimuli we encounter and the number we are able to consciously process by employing our unconscious to quickly categorize and sort the incoming information. Stimuli are grouped through schemas—templates we’ve gathered from our experiences, the media, and our larger culture. This is necessary to our functioning, but can be harmful in that sometimes things, or people, get grouped incorrectly.

Measuring Bias

Scientists measure the level of implicit biases around specific characteristics—race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, usually by reaction times. The most well-known and readily accessible of these tests in the Association Test (IAT) operated by researchers at Harvard. This test is free; we encourage you to go take it now. Several studies and papers that cover real-world impacts of implicit biases are listed below:

In one video-simulation study, college students and community members were more likely to shoot an unarmed black target than an unarmed white target; in another study, police officers were found to be more accurate than community members, but still shot armed Black people more quickly than armed White people. Click here for an article describing these studies.

A 2002 study found that the ambiguous actions of African Americans are interpreted negatively (e.g., as aggressive rather than playful) due to exposure to media relying on negative stereotypes of African Americans. Click here to see this study.

Criminal defendants with more Afro-centric facial features receive, in certain contexts, more severe criminal punishment. Click here to see this study.

Can implicit biases be changed?

Implicit biases can be changed. The answer is not in being a “colorblind” society, but, rather, in becoming color conscious. We must acknowledge that race can influence decision making. Help educate yourself and others.

  • Awareness is the first, and very effective, step. Take responsibility by routinely reviewing your thought processes for potential biases. Implicit bias trainings help prepare professionals to develop this self-awareness. Contact NC-CRED for help in scheduling a training.
  • Another way to combat implicit biases is to increase one’s exposure to groups one is biased against–either through social contact or by studying the lives of members of the stigmatized group, especially members who are revered or accomplished.