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Trauma-Informed Approaches Requires Us to Challenge Implicit Bias

Implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. All humans are susceptible to implicit biases.

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.

A Few Key Characteristics of Implicit Biases

  • Implicit biases are pervasive. Everyone possesses them, even people with avowed commitments to impartiality such as judges.

  • Implicit and explicit biases are related but distinct mental constructs. They are not mutually exclusive and may even reinforce each other.

  • The implicit associations we hold do not necessarily align with our declared beliefs or even reflect stances we would explicitly endorse.

  • 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.

  • Implicit biases are malleable. Our brains are incredibly complex, and the implicit associations that we have formed can be gradually unlearned through a variety of debiasing techniques.

Implicit racial bias tends to work against the same groups that are the victims of the type of overt racism that you hear from white supremacists or the subtler bigotry of people who believe that racial minorities suffer from cultural pathology or who actively defend racial and ethnic stereotypes.

As Cynthia Lee, a professor at the George Washington University School of Law, has explained, "The social science research demonstrates that one does not have to be a racist with a capital R, or one who intentionally discriminates on the basis of race, to harbor implicit racial biases."

To test yourself for your implicit biases related to race, you can take the Implicit Association Test for Race.

Below is a TED Talk by Ms. Melanie Funchess, Director of Community Engagement for the Mental Health Association. She discusses how implicit bias affects us and how we can push through it.

©2019 by Erie Coalition for a Trauma Informed Community.
Erie County
Pennsylvania