What Is Fair?
Implicit Bias: Thoughts vs Actions:
How do our automatic (subconscious) thoughts affect our actions?
Can we overcome automatic thoughts over time? How do our unconscious processes affect how we engage in “fair” behaviors or choices?
This is not textbook definition, but in general, I am going to refer to prejudice as ACTIONS we engage in, as opposed to biases, which are thoughts that we may or may not act upon.
Most of us make a conscious decision NOT to act in ways that perpetuate prejudice, but what about our unconscious “decisions?”
Initially, implicit bias comes from how we are raised, the society we were raised around and the values that were modeled for us. Implicit, as it implies, is already in us but we can work on changing our automatic associations over time but change is slow. Implicit bias refers to the “attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.”
You can use implicit bias tests, like the modified STROOP tests, to see to what degree (if at all) implicit biases exist in your thoughts, even if you have never acted upon them.
Examples of implicit biases include age, gender, skin tone, sexual preference, disability, weight and many others. Harvard University’s implicit bias project has many topics in its library and you can access via this web site. https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html. According to Lisa Wade, Ph.D. “[STROOP] works by putting a pair of words on each side of a computer screen.
Sometimes the pair matches your unconscious mind; like (for most of us, unfortunately) young and good. Sometimes the pair challenges your unconscious mind; like (for most of us, unfortunately) old and good. You’re asked to do a timed test focusing on just one of the pair; we’re all quicker when the terms match than when they don’t.” Just because we may harbor an unconscious or implicit bias DOES NOT IMPLY THAT YOU WILL ALWAYS ACT UPON THEM!
You can still CHOOSE to either act on a bias or NOT act on that bias or even act in ways that CHALLENGE that bias! The important point is that, the best way to challenge biases is to – first and foremost – be aware of that bias. Then, you can begin the process of acting and thinking in ways that may challenge the biases. If you wish to, you can look at where your implicit biases may be rooted to begin challenging the veracity of those biases.
We, as human beings, are always likely to hold some bias or another. There is nothing inherently wrong with bias. The problems start when we act upon those biases without considering that we may be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If I treat someone in a disrespectful manner is it any wonder that they feel disrespected?
If I think less of someone without a higher education diploma, is it any surprise they feel marginalized?
I would encourage everyone to try a few bias tests and ask yourself what you can do to begin moving to a more neutral stance.
Personally, I became aware of a bias I held after I moved to the southern states of the United States in that I equated the southern drawl with ignorance and lack on intelligence. So, in order to change my initial bias against that tone of voice, I sought out a man with a doctorate in statistics and would ask him to explain complex ideas of test design and analysis. Sometimes I already knew the answer, but just needed the experience of hearing him answer in that southern drawl. Other times, I was learning new concepts, or applications of concepts I was learning, and I was very grateful for that learning opportunity. I can’t say that I NEVER have that reaction to deep southern drawls any longer, but I will not let it affect how I choose to act toward someone.
Size or fat bias is one of the most pervasive throughout the world and I have moved to almost a neutral status on that over the last couple of decades but it takes time and effort.
You have to know your bias, and continually challenge proof of that bias, to overcome automatic thoughts.
If the results of any of these assessments causes you distress, please see a mental health professional in order to have a safe place to discuss this.