Implicit Bias

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Overview

This page provides resources for learning about implicit bias and includes readings and recommendations for incorporating this concept into your teaching strategies. Implicit bias describes the way that stereotypes and attitudes we are not aware of shape our behavior. Research shows that implicit bias is a concern in STEM courses, where instructors and students may carry assumptions or hold stereotypes in mind that are not supportive of an inclusive teaching environment. For more information about implicit bias, please refer to this widely known study, Project Implicit.

Project Implicit uses the Implicit Association Test (IAT), a tool developed by Anthony Greenwald, Professor of Psychology at the University of Washington and Mahzarin Banaji, Professor of Social Ethics at Harvard, to study prejudice in social contexts. The IAT assesses unconscious or implicit bias in the context of social identity. The test was later implemented in a study that is ongoing, Project Implicit, and is currently housed on servers at Harvard. To hear Dr. Greenwald and Dr. Banaji discuss this research, view this video.

Goals

  • To explain implicit bias and how it is relevant to inclusive teaching practices in STEM classes.
  • To provide strategies for addressing possible bias in one’s teaching and interactions with students.

Challenges

Some researchers and media personalities have questioned the validity of implicit bias after one of the originators of the IAT acknowledged problems with the test. Critics claim that, because the test is imperfect, implicit bias must not exist. Notably, however, there is a significant body of research on implicit bias that does not use or rely on the IAT. This body of work shows conclusively that implicit bias is a significant problem, particularly in STEM education. See, for example, this review article about women leaving academic research settings because of unconscious bias:

Easterly, D.M., Ricard, C.S. (2011). Conscious Efforts to End Unconscious Bias: Why Women Leave Academic Research. Journal of Research Administration. 42, 61-73.

Implementation

Consider taking the IAT and reflecting on your results. Consult the resources below to learn more about implicit bias and how to address your own biases and how they may shape your teaching.  

In addition, consider adapting the assignment below for use in your class.

Integration with course content

Consider showing one of the videos below in your course, or ask students to view a video outside of class and then write a short reflection about how implicit bias may or may not shape their experiences as a student.

After reviewing one of the videos or articles below, ask students to discuss or write about ways that unconscious bias may have influenced projects or research in your field of study.


Additional Resources

Banaji, M.R., Greenwald, G.G. (2013). Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People. New York: Bantam.

Dee, T., Gershenson, S. (2017). Unconscious Bias in the Classroom: evidence and opportunities. Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis.

Jackson, S., Hillard, A., Schneider, T. (2014). Using Implicit Bias Training to Improve Attitudes about Women in STEM. Social Psychology of Education. 17.3

LaCrosse, J., Sekaquaptewa, D., Bennett, J. (2016). STEM Stereotypic Attribution Bias Among Women in an Unwelcoming Science Setting. Psychology of Women Quarterly.

Nordell, J. (2017). Is this how discrimination ends? The Atlantic.


Videos

“Understanding unconscious bias.” A 3-minute explanation of how implicit/unconscious bias works created by The Royal Society. 

Implicit Bias Video Series from UC Berkeley.

“How to overcome our biases? Walk boldly toward them.” An 18-minute TED Talk by diversity advocate Verna Myers.