December 5, 2014, by Jules Holroyd
Bias, Awareness and Imperfect Cognitions
Are we aware of our implicit biases? If not, does this affect our responsibility for being biased and behaving in biased ways? The stakes here are pretty high, if implicit bias is, as recently argued, involved in the appallingly numerous cases of police shootings of African American males.
In a recent paper, I argue that the empirical evidence indicates that it is not impossible for us to be aware of implicit biases, in the relevant sense of awareness; namely, awareness of the properties that our actions have of being implicitly biased. We could have this sort of ‘observational’ awareness of our actions, even if we can’t introspect and ‘see’ the biases in our own cognitions.
Moreover, I argue this is an awareness that individuals *should* have. But it seems – insofar as the results of IATs and other implicit measures are surprising to us – we often in fact lack this awareness. Is this ignorance culpable? That will depend on what explains it: motivated self-deception? Affected ignorance? Misleading introspective evidence? It seems our lack of awareness is likely bound up with other imperfect cognitions. So I argue here (read the open access article for the details).
Stopping the influence of implicit bias will likely require institutional change and bias mitigating measures. But it will also require frank self-evaluations, and attentive awareness – awareness we can and should have – to the ways in which our actions are implicitly biased, and the ways we are implicated in unjust discrimination.