What is implicit bias?
“Automatic preference… [for non-historically underrepresented groups that] predicts discriminatory behavior even among…[those] who earnestly (and, we believe, honestly] espouse egalitarian beliefs.”
Banaji & Greenwald, 2013, pp. 46-47
What are the effects of implicit bias?
Research suggests that implicit bias shapes both instructor-student and student-student interactions in the classroom, with outcomes such as:
- Influencing students’ course performance and desire to pursue a career in the discipline (Kiefer & Sekaquaptewa, 2007).
- Influencing instructor non-verbal behaviors (e.g., eye contact) to preference white students (Dovidio, Kawakami, & Gaertner, 2002).
- Male students underestimating the academic performance of female students, even when controlling for course grade and participation in the class (Grunspan, et al., 2016). Such dynamics could potentially influence female students’ peer assessment grade or influence their sense of belonging in the discipline. A negative student-student climate is also a strong predictor of student absenteeism (Wolbring & Treischl, 2016).
How can the expression of implicit bias be mitigated in the classroom?
- Take steps to make implicit biases explicit so they can intentionally be addressed. For example, instructors can take an Implicit Association Test (IAT, see below) to help better regulate implicit biases in the classroom. Several instructors describe positive results in classroom exercises to teach students about the concept of implicit bias, which also involve taking the IAT and facilitating discussions about the experience (e.g., Adams, Devos, Rivera, Smith & Vega, 2014; Goshal, Lippard, Robas, & Muir, 2012).
- Blind grading (i.e., hiding a student’s name on a paper or test) can eliminate the cues for implicit bias (Killpack & Melón, 2016). Transparent and clearly defined grading protocols (e.g., grading papers with rubrics, which are distributed to students in advance) also can provide structures to mitigate bias (Thompson & Sekaquaptewa, 2002).
- Exposure of the diversity of contributors to/members of the field may help lessen implicit bias. One study indicated that showing students images of African-American exemplars lessened IAT-identified racial preferences in the short term (Dasgupta & Greenwald, 2001). Banaji & Greenwald (2013, p. 151) suggest that a screensaver of counterstereotypical human images may have a similar effect for instructors.
- Create structures for more equitable participation in the classroom, especially to structure pair, team and group experiences (Thompson & Sekaquaptewa, 2002). Examples include clearly defined roles for group members.
- Project Implicit: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html The Implicit Association Test (IAT) is available at the site. The IAT is designed to measure automatic attitudes and beliefs that may not be apparent to the respondent.
- Statts, C. (2015-16, Winter). Understanding implicit bias: What educators should know. American Educator, 39(4): 29-33, 43. This accessible article summarizes educational research on implicit bias and offers strategies to mitigate its effects.
- Killpack & Melón (2016). Toward Inclusive STEM Classrooms: What Personal Role Do Faculty Play? Available: http://www.lifescied.org/content/15/3/es3.long This article offers a definition of implicit bias and three strategies that instructors can use to mitigate it. Although written in a STEM education journal, some strategies are broadly applicable to other disciplines (e.g., blind grading).
Adams, V.H., Devos, T., Roversa, L.M., Smith, H., & Vega, L.A. (2014). Teaching about implicit prejudices and stereotypes: A pedagogical demonstration. Teaching of Psychology, 41(3): 204-212.
Banaji, M.R. & Greenwald, A.G. (2013). Blindspot: Hidden biases of good people. New York: Delacorte Press.
Dasgupta, N., & Greenwald, A.G. (2001). On the malleability of racial attitudes: Combating automatic prejudice with images of admired and disliked individuals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81(5): 800-814.
Dovidio, J. F., Kawakami, K., & Gaertner, S. L. (2002). Implicit and explicit prejudice and interracial interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 62–68.
Goshal, R.A., Lippard, C., Robas, V., & Muir, K. (2012). Beyond bigotry: Teaching about unconscious prejudice. Teaching Sociology, 41(2): 130-143.
Grunspan, D.Z., Eddy, S.L., Brownell, S.E., Wiggins, B.L., Crowe, A.J., Goodreau, S.M. (2016). Males underestimate academic performance of their female peers in undergraduate biology classrooms. PLOS One, 11(2): Available: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0148405
Kiefer, A.K., & Sekaquaptewa, D. (2007). Implicit stereotypes, gender identification, and math-related outcomes: A prospective study of female college students. Psychological Science, 18(1): 13-18
Killpack, T. L., & Melón, L. C. (2016). Toward inclusive STEM classrooms: What personal role do faculty play? CBE Life Sciences Education, 15(3). Available: http://www.lifescied.org/content/15/3/es3.long#ref-100
Thompson, M., & Sekaquaptewa, D. (2002). When being different is detrimental: Solo status and the performance of women and minorities. Analysis of Social Issues and Public Policy, 2(1): 183-203.
Wolbring, T., & Treischl, E. (2016). Selection bias in students’ evaluation of teaching: Causes of student absenteeism and its consequences for course ratings and rankings. Research in Higher Education, 57: 51-71.