Presentation Title

The Case for Viewing Implicit Biases as Habits

Faculty Mentor

Alex Madva

Start Date

23-11-2019 9:30 AM

End Date

23-11-2019 9:45 AM

Location

Markstein 107

Session

oral 1

Type of Presentation

Oral Talk

Subject Area

humanities_letters

Abstract

It has become increasingly clear that there are more barriers to achieving social equality than overt bigotry and discrimination. One of these barriers is implicit bias – negative attitudes or associations that a person may unconsciously hold about certain social groups, even if they believe themselves to be unbiased.

To study this, researchers have designed indirect measures for bias which bypass self-report, and studies suggest that these measures predict behavior. However, the further challenge remains of how to theorize or interpret the nature of implicit biases. How do they fit in our broader understanding of the mind and the person? Philosophers and psychologists offer various interpretations, but I’m arguing that we should think of them as habits.

My argument is structured as follows. First, I provide some context regarding the nature of habits (Why do they exist? How are they formed?). Then, I summarize the evidence for viewing implicit biases as habits, and explore the implications of doing so – one key point is that habit-formation often happens unconsciously. Next, I address a potential objection, which is that the habit model cannot sufficiently account for where we acquire implicit biases. Finally, I explain why this is a benefit, not a shortcoming, as it creates a flexible paradigm that allows for both social influence and individual accountability. Habits exist in social and political contexts, so viewing implicit biases as habits allows us to acknowledge the external influences which may shape their development. But, crucially, it also provides the individual with a sense of agency over their own biases. Once a habit is brought to our attention, we’re capable of changing it – of retraining ourselves to act in a new way instead of slipping back into the same old groove. It’s difficult, but possible, and like any other habit, it gets easier over time.

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Nov 23rd, 9:30 AM Nov 23rd, 9:45 AM

The Case for Viewing Implicit Biases as Habits

Markstein 107

It has become increasingly clear that there are more barriers to achieving social equality than overt bigotry and discrimination. One of these barriers is implicit bias – negative attitudes or associations that a person may unconsciously hold about certain social groups, even if they believe themselves to be unbiased.

To study this, researchers have designed indirect measures for bias which bypass self-report, and studies suggest that these measures predict behavior. However, the further challenge remains of how to theorize or interpret the nature of implicit biases. How do they fit in our broader understanding of the mind and the person? Philosophers and psychologists offer various interpretations, but I’m arguing that we should think of them as habits.

My argument is structured as follows. First, I provide some context regarding the nature of habits (Why do they exist? How are they formed?). Then, I summarize the evidence for viewing implicit biases as habits, and explore the implications of doing so – one key point is that habit-formation often happens unconsciously. Next, I address a potential objection, which is that the habit model cannot sufficiently account for where we acquire implicit biases. Finally, I explain why this is a benefit, not a shortcoming, as it creates a flexible paradigm that allows for both social influence and individual accountability. Habits exist in social and political contexts, so viewing implicit biases as habits allows us to acknowledge the external influences which may shape their development. But, crucially, it also provides the individual with a sense of agency over their own biases. Once a habit is brought to our attention, we’re capable of changing it – of retraining ourselves to act in a new way instead of slipping back into the same old groove. It’s difficult, but possible, and like any other habit, it gets easier over time.