It was back in 1995 that two psychologists, Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald, came up with the term ‘implicit bias’, using it to explain the phenomenon in which people’s social behaviour is influenced by unconscious judgements, stereotypes, and associations.
In simple terms, it means that we have a tendency to prescribe certain characteristics to different social groups, based purely on these unconscious associations in our minds. Implicit biases come in various forms and can occur in many locations, from schools to workplaces, and you may exhibit signs of implicit bias despite having completely contrasting views and opinions.
As a result of these biases, we might behave differently with certain people or treat them differently, without even necessarily realising it ourselves, and this can have all kinds of negative knock-on effects.
Since implicit biases form unconsciously, they can be difficult to control. However, there are ways in which you can start addressing, understanding, and eliminating these biases from your life; becoming a more mindful and balanced person in the process.
See others as individuals
One of the simplest ways to try and reduce implicit bias in your life is to start looking at people purely as individuals, rather than members of a certain gender, race, religion, or ethnic group. See everyone as the unique, individual soul they are, with their own opinions and emotions, and consider them on a personal level. This will help to reduce the impact of any unconscious associations your mind may have.
Put yourself in their shoes
When considering other people around you or communicating or engaging with others in some way, put yourself in their position. Think about how you might feel in a similar situation. What thoughts and feelings might run through your mind, and how you could potentially react. This is an effective way to develop more empathy and understanding for others, especially those in different social situations to ourselves.
Look for evidence against stereotypes
One way you can erase mistaken stereotypes, generalisations, or unproven associations from your mind is to look for evidence to the contrary. As you discover information that disproves so many common stereotypes, your unconscious attitudes towards social groups may change and the impact of any implicit biases you feel will lessen in the process.
Often, when faced with a problem, one of the best ways to solve it is to learn more about it. This is true for implicit bias as well; learning more about what it is, how it functions, and what kinds of causes and effects it can have may help you deal with it in the long run. It’s also wise to learn about how other people live and find out more about different social groups to begin eliminating any unconscious associations you might feel towards them.
Take your time
One of the most common ways in which we exhibit and give into implicit biases is when we’re feeling pressured or stressed in some way, forced to make a decision quickly, without having time to really think about it. Try to avoid making big decisions in these conditions, giving yourself more time to think clearly and weigh up the different factors that are in play before coming to any conclusions.
Become more mindful
Mindfulness is often cited as one of the keys to reducing implicit bias, and there is a range of techniques you can try out to become more mindful, including yoga, meditation, or breathing exercises. These techniques allow you to become more aware and focused on the world around you, as well as more thoughtful regarding your own words and actions towards others, and they’ll offer other benefits too, like helping you get better sleep and feel less stressed.
There are actually several bias training courses and classes you can take, with many designed especially for businesses or teachers, designed to help them overcome bias in their day-to-day working lives and become more impartial and balance in their approach to others. There can be some terrific benefits to this kind of training, as long as you approach it with an open mind and take things gradually.
Implicit bias is something that we can’t necessarily escape, as it occurs on an unconscious level and is influenced by the world and societies that surround us, but we can take steps to reduce its effect on our lives and those we encounter and interact with each day. Follow these tips to minimise bias in your life too.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.