What Was Implicit Bias?

Implicit biases have harmful ramifications.
Implicit biases have harmful ramifications.

Implicit bias is also known as social cognition, and it is the subconscious stereotyping the impact on our decisions, actions, and understanding. The biases are involuntary, subconscious, and often out of one’s control, and as such an individual is not aware of these biases. They reside deep in the individual’s subconscious and apparently differ from the common biases that one might choose to hide because of social or political correctness. Implicit biases are not accessible by introspection. These biases are evident even in persons sworn to impartiality such as judges. Implicit biases could have harmless ramifications such as the assumption of knowing a certain skill (for instance, people of Chinese descent are assumed to practice martial arts), to tragic results including extra-judicial killings. The implicit associations that an individual harbor in the subconscious would cause them to have attitudes and feelings about others based on attributes such as age, race, appearance, and ethnicity. Such associations are developed over the lifetime of an individual starting at the early stages of life through indirect and direct messages. Besides the experiences of early life, it is thought that media and news play a significant role as the origin of the implicit associations.

Forms of Implicit Bias

While implicit bias is characteristic of one individual, some tendencies have been observed universally. One form of implicit bias is based on race and is manifested through the subconscious preference of the white race over the black race. People who exhibit this form of implicit bias normally associate the black race with criminal behavior, and the white race with professionalism. People could also use skin-tone for implicit bias, preferring light-skinned people over the dark-skinned people. Another form of implicit bias is based on age, with young people being preferred over old people. Sexuality is another basis of implicit bias and is exhibited through the near-universal aversion of gay people compared to straight people. Harvard University has an online test where one can establish the form of implicit bias they have. The assessment is quite exhaustive and is divided into seven forms of implicit biases.

Sources of Implicit Bias

The traits that define implicit bias are observed in young children, but that does not mean that implicit bias is inherent in human beings. Implicit bias tendencies are obtained from social interactions, with close family members and friends being the primary source of implicit bias in young children. Children aged six years have been observed to be unconsciously stereotypical about a particular section of the society and this, in most cases, mirrors the implicit bias seen in their parents or close relatives. The media has been pointed out by some scholars as another source of implicit bias, with media portrayals of a certain segment of the population being taken up as the reality by the young population. Television shows and commercials are identified as one of the sources of implicit bias in children.

Effects of Implicit Bias

Implicit bias has far-reaching implications in the real world. One study showed that implicit racial bias was present in the determination of sentences in the American judicial system. According to the study, the physical traits of accused persons, particularly one of the male gender, was a factor in the type of sentence the accused received and persons with Afrocentric physical features (dark skin) received harsher sentences than those without Afrocentric features. Implicit bias has been linked to the extra-judicial killings of unarmed people of the black race in the United States. Studies show that people with an implicit bias against African-Americans are likely to take harmless items such as phones to be weapons when carried by black people, and therefore feel threatened by their presence. Implicit bias is also witnessed in the job market, with black people being most affected as they are implicitly associated with criminal activity.


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