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Discuss How Personal Implicit Biases Can Form Understandings at a Local, National or Global Level

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A person may even express explicit disapproval of a certain attitude or belief while still harboring similar biases on a more unconscious level. Such biases do not necessarily align with our own sense of self and personal identity

In many cases, people can hold positive or negative associations with regards to their own race, gender, religion, sexuality, or another personal characteristic. While people might like to believe that they are not susceptible to these biases and stereotypes, the reality is that everyone engages in them whether they like it or not.

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This unwavering desire to ensure the best for children is precisely why educators should become aware of the concept of implicit bias: the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. Operating outside of our conscious awareness, implicit biases are pervasive, and they can challenge even the most well-intentioned and egalitarian-minded individuals, resulting in actions and outcomes that do not necessarily align with explicit intentions. In this article, I seek to shed light on the dynamics of implicit bias with an eye toward educators. After introducing the concept and the science undergirding it, I focus on its implications for educators and suggest ways they can mitigate its effects. Psychologists estimate that our brains are capable of processing approximately 11 million bits of information every second.1 Given the tremendous amount of information that inundates this startlingly complex organ in any given moment, many researchers have sought to understand the nuances of our remarkable cognitive functioning. In his 2011 tome on cognition, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman articulates a widely accepted framework for understanding human cognitive functioning by delineating our mental processing into two parts: System 1 handles cognition that occurs outside of conscious awareness. This system operates automatically and extremely fast. For example, let's say you stop your car at a red light. When the light turns green, you know to proceed through the intersection. Thanks to the speed and efficiency of System 1, experienced drivers automatically understand that green means go, and so this mental association requires no conscious or effortful thought. In contrast, System 2 is conscious processing. It's what we use for mental tasks that require concentration, such as completing a tax form. Rather than being automatic and fast, this undertaking requires effortful, deliberate concentration. Together, these two systems help us make sense of the world. What is fascinating, though, is how much our cognition relies on System 1. Of the millions of possible pieces of information we can process each second, most neuroscientists agree that the vast majority of our cognitive processing occurs outside of our conscious awareness. Besides its vastness, System 1 cognitive processing is also notable because it helps us understand that many of the mental associations that affect how we perceive and act are operating implicitly (i.e., unconsciously)

As such, System 1 is responsible for the associations known as implicit biases. Because the implicit associations we hold arise outside of conscious awareness, implicit biases do not necessarily align with our explicit beliefs and stated intentions. This means that even individuals who profess egalitarian intentions and try to treat all individuals fairly can still unknowingly act in ways that reflect their implicit—rather than their explicit—biases. Thus, even well-intentioned individuals can act in ways that produce inequitable outcomes for different groups.

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Although explicit forms of workplace discrimination are banned in most developed countries, implicit bias plays a significant role in the professional world. Studies have shown that identical resumes receive a different number of callbacks depending on the name at the top of the document (Anselmi, Pasquale, et al, 2013). Across all industries, resumes with a name commonly associated with black individuals received fewer callbacks than those with names associated with white individuals. Comparable implicit bias has also been shown in relation to gender and age. Implicit bias has a significant impact on the legal system. Evidence suggests that black defendants are more likely to be treated harshly in the courtroom than white defendants. Prosecutors are more likely to charge black defendants and less likely to offer them plea bargains. Plea bargains offered to white defendants tend to be more generous than those offered to black or Latino defendants. Furthermore, juries are more likely to exhibit bias against defendants of a race different from the racial background of the majority of the jury. IAT tests have shown implicit associations between the words black and guilty. Implicit bias and racism are related concepts, but they do not have the same meaning. Implicit bias is an unconsciously held set of associations about a particular group. Racism is prejudice against individuals from a specific racial group and can be either explicit or implicit. Implicit bias can lead to implicitly racist behavior, like when a teacher disciplines black children more harshly than white children, but many individuals harbor implicit biases without ever displaying overt racism. By becoming aware of our own implicit biases and actively resisting them, we can avoid perpetuating harmful racist stereotypes and prejudices (Greenwald, Anthony G, et al 1998).

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To sum up, implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control

Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness. Rather, implicit biases are not accessible through introspection. The implicit associations we harbor in our subconscious cause us to have feelings and attitudes about other people based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity, age, and appearance. These associations develop over the course of a lifetime beginning at a very early age through exposure to direct and indirect messages. In addition to early life experiences, the media and news programming are often-cited origins of implicit associations.

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Anselmi, Pasquale, et al. “Implicit Sexual Attitude of Heterosexual, Gay and Bisexual Individuals: Disentangling the Contribution of Specific Associations to the Overall Measure.” PLoS ONE, vol. 8, no. 11, 2013, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0078990.

Correll, Shelley, and Stephen Benard. “Gender and Racial Bias in Hiring.” Penn Office of the Provost, University of Pennsylvania, 21 Mar. 2006, provost.upenn.edu/uploads/media_items/gender-racial-bias.original.pdf.

Greenwald, Anthony G, et al. “Measuring Individual Differences in Implicit Cognition: The Implicit Association Test.” Journal of Personality and Soclal Psychology, vol. 74, no. 6, 1998, pp. 1464–1480., faculty.washington.edu/agg/pdf/Gwald_McGh_Schw_JPSP_1998.OCR.pdf.

“How The Concept Of Implicit Bias Came Into Being.” NPR, National Public Radio, Inc., 17 Oct. 2016, www.npr.org/2016/10/17/498219482/how-the-concept-of-implicit-bias-came-into-being.

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