January 29, 2014, by Jules Holroyd

Awareness of Implicit Bias?



There’s a nice video that gives some details of studies on implicit bias over at the Feminist Philosophers Blog. These studies are relevant to biases that influence hiring and evaluation decisions, and show that biases about race, gender, sexual orientation and parenting role can influence judgements of individuals’ skills.

Apart from providing useful information about the contexts in which biases of various kinds might be operative, this video is interesting to us because of the remarks at the end: the claim that becoming aware of implicit biases is part of combating them. This seems obvious in one sense: you can’t act to mitigate bias if you don’t know you’re likely to have them, or when they’re likely to be operative.

However, we’re interested in a range of senses in which awareness might be relevant to combating bias. There are different senses of awareness in the literature (this is something I say more about in a forthcoming paper, Implicit biases, Awareness and Epistemic Innocence). Sometimes authors are concerned with (1) introspective awareness of the existence of an implicit bias. Other authors are concerned with (2) awareness of a body of knowledge about implicit bias, from which individuals can infer their likely propensity to bias. Other authors still are concerned with (3) observational awareness of one’s own actions, and the extent to which one is able to attribute this to implicit attitudes.

Why is distinguishing these different senses of awareness important? One reason is clarity: there has been dispute over whether individuals have ‘awareness of’ implicit biases, and one explanation for this disagreement is that the parties to the dispute are talking about different senses of awareness (1 and 3, I think). Another reason is that some recent studies have claimed that being aware of implicit bias itself can mitigate the expression of bias (Pope et al). If this is true, then we need to be clear on which kind of awareness is in play here, and recommend the right kind to mitigate bias (it seems that it is the second kind of awareness at issue in the Pope et al paper).

A third reason is one that is relevant to our studies on blaming people for implicit bias. We want to measure the effects of blame on how much bias is expressed, and be able to compare this with other conditions: including making people aware of implicit bias, and a control condition (in which no information is given). So one thing we need to think about is which sense of awareness we should isolate and incorporate into our study.

Posted in AwarenessMitigating strategies