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An implicit bias, or implicit stereotype, is the unconscious attribution of particular qualities to a member of a certain social group.[1]

Implicit stereotypes are influenced by experience, and are based on learned associations between various qualities and social categories, including race or gender. Individuals' perceptions and behaviors can be affected by implicit stereotypes, even without the individuals' intention or awareness. Implicit bias is an aspect of implicit social cognition, the phenomenon that perceptions, attitudes, and stereotypes operate without conscious intention. The existence of implicit bias is supported by a variety of scientific articles in psychological literature. Implicit stereotype were first defined by psychologists Anthony Greenwald and Mahzarin Banaji in 1995.

Explicit stereotypes are the result of intentional, conscious, and controllable thoughts and beliefs.[2] Explicit bias' are usually directed toward a group of people based on what is being perceived. An explicit stereotype example for gender, would be that all adolescent girls like to play with dolls and makeup.

Implicit bias' are associations learned through past experiences. Implicit bias' can be activated by the environment, and operate outside of intentional conscious cognition.[1] For example, we can unconsciously form a bias towards all pitbulls as being dangerous. This bias may be associated with one event that we may have seen in the past, but the source of these associations may be misidentified, or even unknown by the individual who holds them, and can persist even when an individual rejects the bias explicitly.[1]

Bias versus stereotype, attitude, and prejudice,[edit]

Our feelings and experiences can dictate how we look at the world. These can also become beneficial to us in the future because if we know what to avoid and how that made us feel, we can run or fight if we need to. Attitudes, stereotypes, prejudices, and bias are all things that can influence our behavior and feelings toward an individual or group.

Bias is defined as prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair. Bias can be seen as the overarching definition of stereotype and prejudice, in that it is how we associate usually negative traits to a specific group of people. Our “implicit attitudes reflect constant exposure to stereotypical portrayals of members of, and items in, all kinds of different categories: racial groups, professions, women, nationalities, members of the LGBTQ community, moral and political values, etc.”[3]

An attitude is an evaluative judgment of an object, a person, or a social group.[4] We can form an attitude toward soccer players. We can have many different types of attitudes toward soccer players that can either be positive or negative.

A stereotype is the association of a person or a social group with a consistent set of traits. This may include both positive and negative traits, such as African Americans are great at sports or African Americans are more violent than any other race in the United States. There are many types of stereotypes that exists: racial, cultural, gender, group (i.e. college students), all being very explicit in the lives of many people.

Prejudice is defined as unfair negative attitude toward a social group or a member of that group.[5] Prejudices can stem from many of the things that people observe in a different social group that include, but are not limited to, gender, sex, race/ethnicity, or religion. This is pertinent to stereotypes because a stereotype can influence the way people feel toward another group, hence prejudice.

Methods for investigation[edit]

There is a clear challenge is measuring the degree to which someone is biased. There are two different forms of bias. The two forms of bias are connected; however, bias can be implicit or explicit. “Explicit bias encompasses our conscious attitudes which can be measured by self-report, but pose the potential of individuals falsely endorsing more socially desirable attitudes. Implicit biases are unconscious and involuntary attitudes which lie below the surface of consciousness, but can influence affect, behavior, and cognitive processes. The Implicit Association Test (IAT) is one validated tool used to measure implicit bias. The IAT requires participants to rapidly pair two social groups with either positive or negative attributes.” [6]

Implicit-association test[edit]

The Implicit Association Test (IAT) captures the differences in time between how long it takes someone to choose between two unassociated but related topics. “Respondents click one of two computer keys to categorize stimuli into associated categories. When the categories seem consistent to the respondent, the time taken to categorize the stimuli will be less than when the categories seem inconsistent. An implicit association is said to exist when respondents take longer to respond to a category-inconsistent pairing than a category-consistent pairing.” The Implicit Association test is used in psychology for a wide array of topics. These fields include gender, race, science, career, weight, sexuality, and disability. [7]

Go/no-go association task (GNAT)[edit]

The GNAT is similar to the implicit-association test. Although the IAT reveals differential associations of two target concepts (e.g. male-female and weak-strong), the GNAT reveals associations within one concept (for example, whether female is associated more strongly with weak or strong).[8] Participants are presented with word pairs among distractors. Participants are instructed to indicate "go" if the words are target pairs, or "no-go" if they are not. For example, participants may be instructed to indicate "go" if the word pairs are female names and words that are related to strength. Then, participants are instructed to indicate "go" if the word pairs are female names and words that are related to weakness. This method relies on signal detection theory; participants' accuracy rates reveal endorsement of the implicit stereotype. For example, if participants are more accurate for female-weak pairs than for female-strong pairs, this suggests the subject more strongly associates weakness with females than strength.[9]

Semantic priming and lexical decision task[edit]

Semantic priming measures the association between two concepts.[10] In a lexical decision task, subjects are presented with pair of words, and asked to indicate whether the pair are words (for example, "butter") or non-words (for example, "tubter"). The theory behind semantic priming is that subjects are quicker to respond to a word if preceded by a word related to it in meaning (e.g. bread-butter vs. bread-dog).[10] In other words, the word "bread" primes other words related in meaning, including butter. Psychologists utilize semantic priming to reveal implicit associations between stereotypic-congruent words. For instance, participants may be asked to indicate whether pronouns are male or female. These pronouns are either preceded by professions that are predominantly female ("secretary, nurse"), or male ("mechanic, doctor"). Reaction times reveal strength of association between professions and gender.[11]

Sentence completion[edit]

In a sentence completion task, subjects may be presented with sentences that contain stereotypic black and white names (Jerome, Adam), positive and negative stereotypic black behaviors (easily made the team, blasted loud music in his car) and counter-stereotypic behaviors (got a job at Microsoft, refused to dance). Subjects are asked to add to the end of a sentence in any way that is grammatical, e.g. "Jerome got an A on his test..." could be completed with "because it was easy" (stereotypic-congruent) or "because he studied for months" (stereotypic-incongruent) or "and then he went out to celebrate" (non-explanatory). This task is used to measure stereotypic explanatory bias (SEB): participants have a larger SEB if they give more explanations for stereotype-congruent sentences than stereotype–incongruent sentences, and if they give more stereotypic-congruent explanations.[12]

Differences between measures[edit]

The Implicit Association Test (IAT), sequential priming, and other implicit bias tests, are mechanisms for determining how susceptible we are to stereotypes. They are widely used in Social Psychology, although measuring response time to a question as a good measure of implicit biases is still up for debate. “Some theorists do question the interpretation of the scores from tests such as the IAT, but the debate is still going on and responses to the criticisms are certainly widespread.” [13]


Gender Bias[edit]

Gender Biases are the stereotypical attitudes or prejudices that we have towards specific genders. "The concept of gender also refers to the constantly ongoing social construction of what is considered ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ and is based on power and sociocultural norms about women and men."[14] Gender biases are the ways in which we judge men and women based on their hegemonically feminine and masculine assigned traits.

The category of male has been found to be associated with traits of strength and achievement. Both male and female subjects associate male category members more strongly than female category members with words like bold, mighty, and power.[15] The strength of this association is not predicted by explicit beliefs, such as responses on a gender stereotype questionnaire (for example, one question asked if subjects endorsed the word feminist).[1] In a test to reveal the false fame effect, non famous male names are more likely to be falsely identified as famous than non famous female names; this is evidence for an implicit stereotype of male achievement.[16] Females are more associated with weakness. This is true for both male and female subjects, but female subjects only show this association when the weak words are positive, such as fine, flower and gentle; female subjects do not show this pattern when the weak words are negative, such as feeble, frail, and scrawny.[15]

Particular professions are implicitly associated with genders. Elementary school teachers are implicitly stereotyped to be female, and engineers are stereotyped to be male.[17]

Gender Bias in Science and engineering[edit]

Implicit-association tests reveal an implicit association for male with science and math, and females with arts and language.[18] Girls as young as nine years old have been found to hold an implicit male-math stereotype and an implicit preference for language over math.[19] Women have stronger negative associations with math than men do, and the stronger females associate with a female gender identity, the more implicit negativity they have towards math.[18] For both men and women, the strength of these implicit stereotypes predicts both implicit and explicit math attitudes, belief in one's math ability, and SAT performance.[18] The strength of these implicit stereotypes in elementary-aged girls predicts academic self-concepts, academic achievement, and enrollment preferences, even more than do explicit measures.[19] Women with a stronger implicit gender-math stereotype were less likely to pursue a math-related career, regardless of their actual math ability or explicit gender-math stereotypes.[20] This may be because women with stronger implicit gender-math stereotypes are more at risk for stereotype threat. Thus, women with strong implicit stereotypes perform much worse on a math test when primed with gender than women who have weak implicit stereotypes.[21]

Though the number of women pursuing and earning degrees in engineering has increased in the last 20 years, women are below men at all degree levels in all fields of engineering.[22] These implicit gender stereotypes are robust; in a study of more than 500,000 respondents from 34 nations, more than 70% of individuals held this implicit stereotype.[23] The national strength of the implicit stereotype is related to national sex differences among 8th graders on the International TIMSS, a worldwide math &science standardized achievement exam. This effect is present even after statistically controlling for gender inequality in general.[23] Additionally, for women across cultures, studies have shown individual differences in strength of this implicit stereotype is associated with interest, participation and performance in sciences.[23] Extending to the professional world, implicit biases and subsequent explicit attitudes toward women can "negatively affect the education, hiring, promotion, and retention of women in STEM".[24]

The effects of such implicit biases can be seen in across multiple studies including:

  • Parents rate the math abilities of their daughters lower than parents with sons who perform identically well in school [25]
  • College faculty are less likely to respond to inquiries about research opportunities if the email appears to be from a woman as opposed to an identical email from a man [26]
  • Science faculty are less likely to hire or mentor students they believe are women as opposed to men [27]

An interagency report from the Office of Science and Technology Policy and Office of Personnel Management has investigated systemic barriers including implicit biases that have traditionally inhibited particularly women and underrepresented minorities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and makes recommendations for reducing the impact of bias.[28] Research has shown that implicit bias training may improve attitudes towards women in STEM.[24]

Racial Bias[edit]

"Racial bias, can be used synonymously with stereotyping and prejudice because it allows for the inclusion of both positive and negative evaluations related to perceptions of race."[29] We begin to create racial biases towards other groups of people starting as young as age 3, creating an ingroup and outgroup view on members of various races, usually starting with skin color.

In lexical decision tasks, after subjects are subliminally primed with the word BLACK, they are quicker to react to words consistent with black stereotypes, such as athletic, musical, poor and promiscuous. When subjects are subliminally primed with WHITE, they are quicker to react to white stereotypes, such as intelligent, ambitious, uptight and greedy.[30] These tendencies are sometimes, but not always, associated with explicit stereotypes.[30][31]

People may also hold an implicit stereotype that associates black category members as violent. People primed with words like ghetto, slavery and jazz were more likely to interpret a character in a vignette as hostile.[32] However, this finding is controversial; because the character's race was not specified, it is suggested that the procedure primed the race-unspecified concept of hostility, and did not necessarily represent stereotypes.[30] An implicit stereotype of violent black men may associate black men with weapons. In a video game where subjects were supposed to shoot men with weapons and not shoot men with ordinary objects, subjects were more likely to shoot a black man with an ordinary object than a white man with an ordinary object. This tendency was related to subjects' implicit attitudes toward black people. Similar results were found in a priming task; subjects who saw a black face immediately before either a weapon or an ordinary object more quickly and accurately identified the image as a weapon than when it was preceded by a white face.

Implicit race stereotypes affect behaviors and perceptions. When choosing between pairs of questions to ask a black interviewee, one of which is congruent with racial stereotype, people with a high stereotypic explanatory bias (SEB) are more likely to ask the racially congruent stereotype question. In a related study, subjects with a high SEB rated a black individual more negatively in an unstructured laboratory interaction.[12]

In-group and out-group bias[edit]

Group prototypes define social groups through a collection of attributes that define both what representative group members have in common and what distinguishes the ingroup from relevant outgroups.[33] In-group favoritism, sometimes known as in-group–out-group bias, in-group bias, or intergroup bias, is a pattern of favoring members of one's in-group over out-group members. This can be expressed in evaluation of others, in allocation of resources, and in many other ways.[34][35] Implicit in-group preferences emerge very early in life,[36] even in children as young as six years old. In-group bias wherein people who are ‘one of us’ (i.e., our ingroup) are favored compared to those in the outgroup, meaning those who differ from ourselves.[37] Ingroup favoritism is associated with feelings of trust and positive regard for ingroup members and surfaces often on measures of implicit bias. This categorization (ingroup vs. outgroup) is often automatic and unconscious.[38]

The reasons for having in-group and out-group bias could be explained by ethnocentrism, social categorization, oxytocin, etc. A research paper done by Carsten De Dreu reviewed that oxytocin enables the development of trust, specifically towards individuals with similar characteristics - categorized as ‘in-group’ members - promoting cooperation with and favoritism towards such individuals.[39] People who report that they have strong needs for simplifying their environments also show more ingroup favoritism. [40] The tendency to categorize into ingroups and outgroups and resulting ingroup favoritism is likely a universal aspect of human beings.[41]

We generally tend to hold implicit biases that favor our own ingroup, though research has shown that we can still hold implicit biases against our ingroup.[37][42] The most prominent example of negative affect towards an ingroup was recorded in 1939 by Kenneth and Mamie Clark using their now famous “Dolls Test”. In this test, African American children were asked to pick their favorite doll from a choice of otherwise identical black and white dolls.A disturbingly high percentage of these African American children indicated a preference for the white dolls.[43] Social identity theory and Freudian theorists explain in-group derogation as the result of a negative self-image, which they believe is then extended to the group.[44]

Other stereotypes[edit]

Research on implicit stereotypes primarily focuses on gender and race. However, other topics, such as age, weight, and profession, have been investigated. IATs have revealed implicit stereotypes reflecting explicit stereotypes about adolescents. The results from these tests claim that adolescents are more likely to be associated with words like trendy and defiant than adults.[45] In addition, one IAT study revealed that older adults had a higher preference for younger adults compared to older adults; and younger adults had a lower implicit preference for younger adults compared to older adults. The study also found that women and participants with more education had lower implicit preference for younger adults.[46] IATs have also revealed implicit stereotypes on the relationship between obese individuals and low work performance. Words like lazy and incompetent are more associated with images of obese individuals than images of thin ones.[47] This association is stronger for thin subjects than overweight ones.[48] Like explicit stereotypes, implicit stereotypes may contain both positive and negative traits. This can be seen in examples of occupational implicit stereotypes where people perceive preschool teachers as both warm and incompetent, while lawyers are judged as both cold and competent.[49]

Activation of implicit stereotypes[edit]

Implicit stereotypes are activated by environmental and situational factors. 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. [50] In the laboratory, implicit stereotypes are activated by priming. When subjects are primed with dependence by unscrambling words such as dependent, cooperative, and passive, they judge a target female as more dependent. When subjects are primed with aggression with words like aggressive, confident, argumentative, they judge a target male as more aggressive.[51] The fact that females and words such as dependent, cooperative, and passive and males and words like aggressive, confident, argumentative are thought to be associated together suggest an implicit gender stereotype. Stereotypes are also activated by a subliminal prime. To exemplify, white subjects exposed to subliminal words which consist of a black stereotype (ghetto, slavery, jazz) interpret a target male as more hostile, consistent with the implicit stereotype of hostile black man.[32] However, this finding is controversial because the character's race is not specified. Instead, it is suggested that the procedure primed the race-unspecified concept of hostility, and did not necessarily represent stereotypes.[30] By getting to know people who differ from you on a real, personal level, you can begin to build new associations about the groups those individuals represent and break down existing implicit associations.[52]

Malleability of implicit stereotypes[edit]

Implicit stereotypes can, at least temporarily, be reduced or increased. Most methods have been found to reduce implicit bias temporarily, and are largely based on context.[53] Implicit bias can be reduced long-term, but it takes consistent effort. In order to fully undo bias, one must be aware that they are being biased, and must be willing to put in the effort to change their thoughts and actions. Five methods to counteract implicit bias are: stereotype replacement, counter-stereotypic imaging, individuation, perspective taking, and increasing opportunities for contact.

Stereotype replacement is when you replace a stereotypical response with a non-stereotypical response. Counter-stereotypic imagining is when you imagine others in a positive light and replace stereotypes with positive examples. Individuation is when you focus on specific details of a certain member of a group to avoid over-generalizing. Perspective taking is when you take the perspective of a member of a marginalized group. Increasing opportunities for contact is when you actively seek out opportunities to engage in interactions with members of marginalized groups.[54]

Self and social motives

The activation of implicit stereotypes may be decreased when the individual is motivated to promote a positive self-image, either to oneself or to others in a social setting. There are two parts to this: internal and external motivation. Internal motivation is when an individual wants to be careful of what they say, and external motivation is when an individual has a desire to respond in a politically correct way.[55]

Positive feedback from a black person decreases stereotypic sentence completion, while negative feedback from a black person increases it.[56] Subjects also reveal lesser strength of race stereotypes when they feel others disagree with the stereotypes.[57] Motivated self-regulation does not immediately reduce implicit bias. It raises awareness of discrepancies when biases stand in the way of personal beliefs.[58]

Promote counterstereotypes

Implicit stereotypes can be reduced by exposure to counterstereotypes. Reading biographies of females in leadership roles (such as Meg Whitman, the CEO of eBay) increases females’ associations between female names and words like leader, determined, and ambitious in a gender stereotype IAT.[59] Attending a women's college (where students are presumably more often exposed to women in leadership positions) reduces associations between leadership and males after one year of schooling.[59] Merely imagining a strong woman reduces implicit association between females and weakness, and imagining storybook princesses increases the implicit association between females and weakness.[9]

Focus of attention

Diverting a participant's focus of attention can reduce implicit stereotypes. Generally, female primes facilitate reaction time to stereotypical female traits when participants are instructed to indicate whether the prime is animate. When participants instead are instructed to indicate whether a white dot is present on the prime, this diverts their focus of attention from the primes’ feminine features. This successfully weakens the strength of the prime and thus weakening the strength of gender stereotypes.[60]

Configuration of stimulus cues

Whether stereotypes are activated depends on the context. When presented with an image of a Chinese woman, Chinese stereotypes were stronger after seeing her use chopsticks, and female stereotypes were stronger after seeing her put on makeup.[61]

Characteristics of individual category members

Stereotype activation may be stronger for some category members than for others. People express weaker gender stereotypes with unfamiliar than familiar names.[62] Judgments and gut reactions that go along with implicit biases are based on how familiar something is.[63]

The Importance of Reducing Implicit Bias[edit]

Studies have shown that racial bias predicts in-group health outcomes among minority populations. In countries where blacks had more implicit bias towards whites, blacks died at higher rates, and vice versa.[64] Implicit biases effect daily perceptions and legal judgments. Stereotyping is more likely to occur when an individual is making a subjective decision, is busy or distracted, is overwhelmed by a heavy workload, or in a situation where they feel threatened or insecure. Biases tint our outlook, and as a result, our judgments and actions. Everyday people run legal systems, which makes it likely for legal decisions to be bias. For many, crime is linked with certain races. Bias training can help here, but is not always effective.[65]


Unconscious bias or usually known as implicit bias is a "positive or negative mental attitude towards a person, thing, or group that a person holds at an subconscious level".[66] Based on a Stanford medical website, unconscious bias is believed to be established from our own interaction with other people in our society, as well as exposure from the media. Constant exposure to it will eventually develop as some kind of habit that we naturally perceive. Likewise, researchers Greenwald and Banaji in 1995 noted that someone’s social learning experiences such as observing parents, friends, or others could trigger this type of bias. Many studies have found that culture is, in fact, able to stimulate biases as well, both in a negative and positive way regardless someone’s personal experience with other cultures.[67] As far as many people are concerned, implicit bias knows no age restriction and it can happen to anyone regardless of age. As a matter of fact, unconscious bias can be found in a six years-old child.[68] Even though unconscious bias might be hard to notice, especially compared to explicit bias, it can still be measured through several procedures such as sequential priming, response competition, EDA, EMG, fMRI, ERP and ITA. Thus, once a person knows his or her level of bias, further action can be taken. Hence, the existence of implicit stereotypes is supported by a variety of articles in psychological literature. Adults and even children may hold implicit stereotypes of social categories in which they belong. Without intention, or even awareness, implicit stereotypes affect human behavior and judgments. This has wide-ranging implications for society, from discrimination, to personal career choices, and understanding others in everyday social interactions.[1][19][16][32][51]

See also[edit]


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