Composite image with a shaded map of the United States on top and a graph labeled "bias" on the bottom

Can Implicit Bias change?

Topic

Psychologists have traditionally studied our attitudes and beliefs about others by simply asking people about them. Surveys are great for measuring these explicit attitudes, and repeated surveys have uncovered that our attitudes and beliefs about outgroups (people different from us) have been changing.

For instance, a series of surveys called the Princeton Quartet has measured stereotypes of ethnic and racial groups in the United States since the 1930s. These surveys show that we have become far less negative in our explicit evaluations of outgroups and disadvantaged groups.

But what about our implicit, or less conscious, attitudes and stereotypes?

These can’t be measured using a traditional survey, but we can still measure them indirectly. Many of the scientists who first studied implicit bias believed that it was not likely to change over time, at least not so fast as to be visible in our lifetime. But this expectation turns out to be too pessimistic, at least in part. Research by Tessa Charlesworth has shown that implicit bias is changing, and noticeably so.

This is uplifting news for anybody who aspires to be neutral. And it appears that this change is happening at a large-scale, societal level, with millions of people in America becoming less biased on some dimensions.

More work of course needs to be done, and we must acknowledge that not all group-based biases are changing. But seeing change on some tests of bias tells us that our minds are capable of change – even when it comes to our less conscious, implicit biases. That evidence is empowering, and it can prompt us to ask how and how fast we can get ourselves to neutrality.

  1. You predict: where is bias in America headed?

    You Predict: Where Is Bias in America Headed?

    Interactive

    How have various implicit biases—weight, disability, age, skin-tone, race, and sexuality—changed across the U.S.? Draw your predictions on the graph, and compare them with the real data.

  2. Changes in Bias Across America: An Explorable Map

    Interactive

    Research suggests that Americans are showing a reduction in some implicit biases. Explore interactive maps to see how implicit age, race, and sexuality biases have changed across the U.S.

  3. Traditional “diversity training” is out. Now what?

    Article

    Data collected between 1970-2002 suggest that traditional mandatory trainings don’t work, and can even backfire. How do we create education that works?