Countering Implicit Bias

In our last post we looked at the definition of implicit bias and why it is present. Now we will look at ways to counter implicit bias.

Reducing Implicit Bias

One scientific study reduced implicit bias over a period of at least two months (PG Devine, et al., “Long-term reduction in implicit race bias: A prejudice habit-breaking intervention,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 48, Issue 6, November 2012, pp. 1267-1278). The non-African American experimental subjects expressed no explicit racial bias but showed implicit bias against blacks in an IAT test. They were given information on five strategies to reduce implicit bias in a one-day intervention session:

  • Stereotype replacement;
  • Imagine detailed counter-stereotypes;
  • Individuate;
  • Perspective taking; and
  • Increase contact in everyday life

They were instructed to use these strategies to reduce biased behavior and were given repeat IAT tests at four and eight weeks after the intervention. The level of implicit bias on the IAT tests was reduced at both four weeks and eight weeks for the experimental group but was unchanged for a control group who were not given the bias reduction strategies.

Overriding Implicit Bias

Long-term changes in implicit bias are difficult because we build up experiences over a lifetime that contribute to the implicit bias. The study described above used a combination of 5 different strategies to try to make a long-term change. We suggest two of these strategies as a way to temporarily override implicit bias during a mediation session.

Stereotype replacement includes understanding your bias and focusing on counter-stereotypes to inhibit the bias. First, understand and accept your own implicit biases by taking the Implicit Association Tests offered by Project Implicit ( Second, consider the explicit and implicit bias prevalent in your community and think about the possible biases that may impact your mediation practice. Once you have identified the implicit biases that you are most likely to encounter, prepare an individual set of pictures, phrases, and ideas, that are meaningful to you as counter-exemplars. For example, pictures of friends or colleagues who you admire and may help you inhibit an implicit bias. Bring this individual set with you on your phone or in a folder and review it immediately before entering a mediation.

A second effective method is individuating. We all have many different things in common with other people. Besides gender and race, we may have gone to the same school, live in the same city or have some other common mutual interest. Try to find these other connections and concentrate on these areas of commonality rather than on the race or gender in situations where you have implicit biases.

-Jill Tanz

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