Time for Reflection
Don't we all, at times, fail to identify a logic to our many affinities in life - be it a political party, a sports team, an online network/ community/ group, a group of colleagues at workplace, a specific set of friends in personal life, a specific group of people from a particular religion/ caste/ country/ ethnicity, etc. ? Well, the list is endless and can go on and on !
The moot point here relates to the existence of our unexplainable affinity (as mentioned in the above paragraph) beyond the factors of right or wrong, success or failure, good or bad !
The above "prejudice" highlights the presence of a bias, known as "Implicit Bias".
Definition and Background
Implicit Bias refers to the attitudes, stereotypes or beliefs that impact our understanding, actions and decisions in an unconscious manner. Explaining the definition further, Implicit Bias is when we, without our knowledge and awareness, start behaving in a pre-disposed manner towards a certain set/ group of people. Somewhere, our judgement gets impacted under the influence of Implicit Bias.
Implicit Bias is an involuntary process and may be based on any number of characteristics and more than 150 types of implicit biases exist.
The term "Implicit Bias" was coined by Mahzarin Banaji and Tony Greenwald in the 1990s. In 1995, they published their theory of implicit social cognition which asserted that individuals' social behaviour and biases are largely related to unconscious, or implicit, judgements.
Why Does Implicit Bias Occur ?
Whether we believe it or not, like it or not, each one of us is susceptible to implicit bias and that's because of the basic nature of our brain. The brain takes in information and starts forming associations and making generalizations. So, its these "mental connections (associations and generalizations)" that are responsible for "Implicit Bias" in us. Implicit Bias is found throughout the brain, whether amygdala, temporal lobes or frontal cortex.
Lets understand how these "mental connections" lead us into imbibing implicit bias
- Brain seeks patterns and association which impacts our disposition towards people in social situations
- Brain seeks shortcuts - Faced with huge volume of information/ data, the brain tries to simplify the information by creating shortcuts to sort the information/ data
- Our Beliefs and Value System, which is an outcome of our experiences(direct and indirect) and our social conditioning
The biggest indicator is when we unconsciously start attributing a set of characteristics to a certain set/ group of people.
When we become too judgmental about a person/ set of people based solely on one interaction and we let this first impression influence our disposition.
Impact of Implicit Bias
"Implicit Bias" has a tendency to trigger dominos effect, where any existing implicit bias at a micro level could create a cascading effect and reach a macro dimension, which could impact the global order and render it disorderly. The "social media" world that we live in today has the potential to magnify the impact of implicit bias manifold and create an unprecedented damage.
At a personal and self level, the bias dents the personality severely and blocks the opportunities of growth. A restricted perception and disposition halts the growth of the individual.
Implicit Bias is not just confined to personal self but affects a whole range of setups like educational/ learning institutions, workplace, social gathering and legal systems. Within educational institutions, implicit bias primarily exist around skin type and gender type, with the key issues being behavioral and subject choices/ preferences.
Talking about the impact of the bias at Workplace, the bias is chiefly evident in areas like
- Core HR tasks which include Recruitment, Hiring and Retention. The presence of Implicit Bias could render the claims of being an Equal Opportunity Employer and providing a diverse and inclusive workplace/ environment as totally baseless, resulting in severly damaging the reputation of the organisation
- Interpersonal relationships in the organisation, both at inter-team and intra-team level. This ultimately impacts the teamwork and collaboration, which happen to be the backbone of any flourishing organisation.
Real-Life Examples of Implicit Bias
There are plenty of real-life examples of implicit bias occurring in setups like classrooms, workplace, legal system, etc. but one of the most popular (rather viral) is about an incident that occurred on April 12, 2018 at a Starbucks outlet in Philadelphia, where two black men got arrested after refusing to leave, on being told to do so by a Starbucks employee. This incident, highlighting implicit bias, reached such proportions that Starbucks had to issue an apology for its' treatment to these two black men.
The details of the incident may be read at the following links
Overcoming/ Addressing Implicit Bias
2 important things about Implicit Bias
- Even the aware, educated or socially conscious have biases
- Implicit Bias exist/ operates at an unconscious level and so difficult to access
- First and foremost, becoming aware of the Implicit Bias is the starting point to deal with it. One of the best way to become aware of Implicit Bias is through the IAT (Implicit Association Test), a test developed by Banaji and Greenwald in 1998, to confirm their hypothesis regarding their theory of implicit social cognition. IAT was designed to assess the strength of unconscious biases through a computer program. The test is available online at
It may be noted that like with every test, even this test has limitations but is still a good bet for the purpose.
- For addressing the bias at an individual level, the following could help
- by reducing our reliance on generalizations and stereotypes
- Avoid being judgemental by relying less on "gut feeling" and/ or "intuition" and more on "facts"
- Seeing/ Understanding people as individuals rather than as part of an identified group by seeking personal information about the person in terms of interests, skills, and other personality traits
- Counter Stereotypical Imaging which refers to going against the mental picture that we hold in our mind for a particular group/ set of people
- Giving time for the interaction to unfold organically by attempting a positive interaction
- For addressing the bias at an institutional/ organisational level, the following could help
- Building Anonymity in the recruitment and hiring process
- Walking the Talk when it is about Inclusivity, Diversity and Equal Opportunity. Seeking Commitment from every employee on the seamless integration of the above 3 in their routine would build more trust among them (employees)
- Building an organisational culture comprising of values and mission that capture the essence of mitigating the existence of implicit bias could turn out to be very effective if every employee could align to them by heart
- Ensuring that every essential gathering comprises of as many diverse participants as possible
Living in a technology driven VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world, where information/ data rules the roost, the best defense we can build up against Implicit Bias is not to over-react towards any "emotion evoking" piece of data/ information. Rather, if we just let the dust settle first, and then provide our reaction, it is bound to be a more balanced and rational reaction.
When "First Impression" starts creating a "lasting impression", it's time so start looking beyond for more !