The CHE on Implicit Bias

The Chronicle of Higher Ed has an article on implicit bias which raises questions a number of philosophers have pursued.  The general question is about the relation between implicit bias and biased behavior, with specific reference to the IAT (Implicit Association Test).  The conclusion that is emerging is that getting rid of implicit biases will not get rid of the biased behavior.  The point is made that from the fact that bias causes biased behavior, it does not follow that getting rid of bias gets rid of the behavior.

While that sounds true, we should know more.  One reason could have to do with what ‘implicit bias in a person’ really is.  Edward Machery has a lot of work on this question.  But in general we have known for sometime that that beliefs tend to occur in networks, and changing the belief in one  network may leave it more or less intact in another part.  Another could be that the biased actions or their results are held in place by structural factors in the society.  I am not sure who all have pursued this line of investigation, but Sally Haslanger has a lot of excellent work in this area.  In my contribution to the 2-volume OUP work on implicit bias edited  by Brownstein and Saul, I raised a question about this, and look at some recent psychological literature.  Once one starts to look at the structural factors underpinning racist actions, for example, one can see that the needed change has got at least to include a change in social structures.  (You can find a good article by Machery in the same 2-vol edition.  Google will reveal lots of work by Haslanger.)

It would be great to get more reading suggestions on the structural side in the comments.

For people who have been following this literature at all closely, one of the biggest surprises is that one of the originators of the supposedly fundamental IAT  seems to have changed sides!  That’s Brian Nozick of the University of VA.



2 thoughts on “The CHE on Implicit Bias

  1. Thanks for the discussion Anne! I had a mixed response to this article. I don’t think it’s surprising at all that eliminating an implicit bias would not eliminate behaviour biased in the same way — there are explicit biases too as well as (what I would call) the entrenched biases in our cognition and our society that you describe.

    I’m curious to hear more from Brian Nosek on this. He seems to present his position as not changed and to say that he’s always had some disagreements about interpretation with others who developed the IAT. I think its great that he’s encouraging more work to related to implicit bias even if it shows certain results to be less robust than claimed. While it’s exhausting trying to comprehend all the literature on implicit bias it seems to me there is still a lot of work to be done to show its effects.

  2. One thing that bothers me about what I’ve seen about this conversation so far is its emphasis on behavior. It seems like what we secretly think, so long as it does not affect our behavior, is not important. But it’s important to me what people really think, not just how they act. So implicit bias tests at least show that we have some cognitive dissonances to work out, and isn’t that important to know?

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