Implicit Bias

December 21, 2011

Each month this year, AAUW is teaming up with Nature Publishing Group, one of the world’s leading science publishers, to put together an online forum on women in science. The AAUW posts highlight findings from our 2010 research report, Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, now in its third printing.

Many people say they do not believe the stereotype that girls and women are not as good as boys and men in math and science. The research of Mahzarin Banaji at Harvard University, however, shows that even individuals who consciously refute gender and science stereotypes can still hold those beliefs at an unconscious level. These unconscious beliefs or implicit biases may be more powerful than explicitly held beliefs and values simply because we are not aware of them. Even if overt gender bias is waning, as some argue, research shows that less-conscious beliefs underlying negative stereotypes continue to influence assumptions about people and behavior.

Findings from Banaji’s gender-science implicit association test (IAT) indicate an implicit association of “male” with “science” and “female” with “arts” and a high level of gender stereotyping at the unconscious level among a majority of both women and men of all races and ethnicities.

One main purpose of the IAT is to help educate individuals about their implicit biases. Although implicit biases operate at an unconscious level and are influenced by our cultural environments, individuals can resolve to become more aware of how they make decisions and if and when their implicit biases may be at work in that process. Anyone can take the IAT to gain a better understanding of her or his biases.

Even though I have a background in engineering and I now spend much of my time writing, thinking, and talking about women in science and engineering, my IAT results show that I still have a moderately strong implicit association of “science” with “male.” As people who are knowledgeable about the issues surrounding women in science, I’m curious to know your results. Please take the gender-science IAT and post your results in the comments section!

By:   |   December 21, 2011

2 Comments

  1. Susmita Barua says:

    I just tried to take the implicit bias Test and felt uncomfortable giving some very personal information to a machine which is registering my computer IP address. In our adversarial competitive society we are always trying to locate problems within the individual and not the organizational practice, culture or habits or environment in general. This does not yield good solutions.

    I am interested in bias within the organizational and cultural environment than within individuals who often are trying to survive in such environment. This would create a different emphasis and compassionate non-stigmatizing approach to address unconscious barriers (inner and outer)

    Very simply to remove implicit biases and barriers we need awareness and education. We need to see whether there is receptivity, friendliness, curiosity and appreciation of the “other” in the first few moments or times of personal interaction, at the impersonal-interpersonal level or group meetup situation; since this sets up the pattern of defenses; 2) whether the institutional procedures and rules are simple, clear, transparent and accessible; 3)how inclusive is the decion-making process or concensus building 4) is the space safe and inviting for someone with different upbringing, views or concerns to speak up. Empathic listening and gut and heart based speech need to be practiced for developing value and need based concensus.

  2. Susmita Barua says:

    I tried to take the implicit bias Test and felt uncomfortable giving some very personal information to a machine which is registering my computer IP address. In our adversarial competitive society we are always trying to locate problems within the individual and not the organizational practice, culture or habits or environment in general. This does not yield good solutions.

    We need to see whether there is receptivity, friendliness, curiosity and appreciation of the “other” in the first few moments or times of personal interaction, at the impersonal-interpersonal level or group meeting situation; since this sets up the pattern of response, reaction and defense; 2) whether the institutional procedures and rules are simple, clear, transparent and accessible; 3) how inclusive is the decision making process or consensus building 4) is the space safe and inviting for someone with different upbringing, views or concerns to speak up. Such positive learning process and behavior reinforecement I feel would go a long way than finding implicit biases.

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