Implicit bias refers to the unconscious attitudes or stereotypes that affect our interpretations, actions, and decisions. These automatic but involuntary associations can be favorable or unfavorable; even people who identify as members of a stereotyped group can show unconscious biases toward that group (Banaji et al., 1993; Devine, 1989; Kirwan Institute, 2015). Such biases have been shown to influence the expectations that educators hold for different groups of learners. In one study, teachers’ levels of implicit bias were related to their differential academic expectations for ethnic majority versus ethnic minority students and to the ethnic achievement gap in their classrooms (van den Bergh et al., 2010).
Even when educators have the best of intentions, implicit biases can cause them to unintentionally provide those students for whom they have high expectations with more opportunities to respond and more informative feedback (Rosenthal, 1994). These subtle cues may result in the perception and internalization of educator expectations by learners and alter their behavior and motivation as a result—ultimately reinforcing the educators’ biases (Rosenthal, 2003). The effects of these unintended attitudes can also extend toward hiring practices and co-curricular opportunities for students. By being cognizant of potential unconscious biases and checking our own assumptions, we can work toward the creation of more inclusive climates for learning.
If you are teaching a course, use clear rubrics with well-defined criteria for grading and distribute them to students in advance. This allows all students to be aware of your expectations and ensures that your grading will be consistent. Some faculty may also choose to use practices such as blind grading to mitigate implicit bias (Killpack & Melón, 2016).
Provide learners with the opportunity to anonymously write a reflection (3-5 minutes) in the form of a Critical Incident Questionnaire. This may allow learners who are unable to speak out to communicate, so that you can gauge the learning climate.
Take the free Implicit Association Test (IAT) online. By being aware of our unconscious biases, we can try to actively identify instances when stereotypical thoughts might affect our interpretations or decisions. If you are working with teaching assistants, you might also ask them to take the IAT and facilitate a discussion about the experience.
Banaji, M. R., Hardin, C., & Rothman, A. J. (1993). Implicit stereotyping in person judgment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65(2), 272-281.
Devine, P. G. (1989). Stereotypes and prejudice: Their automatic and controlled components. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56(1), 5-18.
Killpack, T. L., & Melón, L. C. (2016). Toward inclusive STEM classrooms: What personal role do faculty play? CBE Life Sciences Education, 15(3), 1-9.
Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. (2015). Understanding implicit bias. Retrieved from kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/research/understanding-implicit-bias
Rosenthal, R. (1994). Interpersonal expectancy effects: A 30-year perspective. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 3(6), 176-179.
Rosenthal, R. (2003). Covert communication in laboratories, classrooms and the truly real world. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 12(5), 151-154.
van den Bergh, L., Denessen, E., Hornstra, L., Voeten, M., & Holland, R. W. (2010). The implicit prejudiced attitudes of teachers: Relations to teacher expectations and the ethnic achievement gap. American Educational Research Journal, 47(2), 497–527.