Bringing Implicit Biases to Light through Education

Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity explains in its second issue of State of the Science, implicit biases lead to preconceptions that negatively impact minorities’ experiences.  In response, institutions of higher learning are promoting awareness of implicit biases and unintentional discrimination.  Schools are focusing on the impact of implicit biases in several areas, including employment. Ohio State University welcomed implicit biases expert Dr. Brian A. Novosek to discuss the ways in which awareness of our thoughts can address the problem of biased outcomes.  Dr. Novosek suggests the following measures in eradicating implicit biases:

  • ongoing measurement and feedback
  • making assumptions explicit, and
  • taking the time to slow down and make thoughtful, deliberate decisions

Joshua Correll of the University of Chicago, studied shooter-weapons biases by involving participants in a simulated video game. The results of the study are compiled in “The Influence of Stereotypes on Decisions to Shoot.”  Participants were instructed to shoot characters who seemed threatening and to avoid shooting characters who seemed non-threatening.  In the simulation, participants shot African-American characters significantly more often than white characters.

This begs the question, if implicit biases occur so prevalently in simulated circumstances, then to what extent do preconceived stereotypes impact real life?  Casey Reynolds explains in her Law and Psychology Review article “Implicit Bias and the Problem of Certainty in the Criminal Standard of Proof” that implicit biases affect jurors’ views as they evaluate information pertaining to whether a defendant is guilty or innocent.  Reynolds purports that jurors should be educated through jury instructions to address this issue.  Making judges and jurors aware of biases that affect factual and legal determinations can encourage debiasing.

Patrice Garnette, Joint Center Graduate Scholar, The George Washington University Law School