John Doris, professor of philosophy and philosophy-neuroscience-psychology
When is the last time a stereotype popped into your mind? If you are like most people, the authors included, it happens all the time. That doesn’t make you a racist, sexist, or whatever-ist. It just means your brain is working properly, noticing patterns, and making generalizations. But the same thought processes that make people smart can also make them biased. This tendency for stereotype-confirming thoughts to pass spontaneously through our minds is what psychologists call implicit bias. It sets people up to overgeneralize, sometimes leading to discrimination even when people feel they are being fair.
Studies of implicit bias have recently drawn ire from both right and left. For the right, talk of implicit bias is just another instance of progressives seeing injustice under every bush. For the left, implicit bias diverts attention from more damaging instances of explicit bigotry. Debates have become heated, and leapt from scientific journals to the popular press. Along the way, some important points have been lost. We highlight two misunderstandings that anyone who wants to understand implicit bias should know about.
First, much of the controversy centers on the most famous implicit bias test, the Implicit Association Test (IAT). A majority of people taking this test show evidence of implicit bias, suggesting that most people are implicitly biased even if they do not think of themselves as prejudiced. Like any measure, the test does have limitations. The stability of the test is low, meaning that if you take the same test a few weeks apart, you might score very differently. And the correlation between a person’s IAT scores and discriminatory behavior is often small.
Read the full piece in Scientific American