Implicit Bias: Inside The Brain

I recently attended a continuing education judicial conference entitled Implicit Bias: Recognizing It and Dismantling It. Implicit bias can be defined as unconscious attitudes and preferences operating just below our conscious awareness. Dr. Mahzarin Banaji, one of the world’s leading researchers on this topic, presented the most recent research to 150 judges and lawyers.

I’ll bet you’ve seen at least one of those videos or pictures that are used to prove to us how our eyes, and our brains, can play tricks on us. I’ve used many of these exercises myself.

Dr. Banaji was using one I had never seen before. There were two pairs of basketball players passing basketballs. We were asked to count the number of passes between one pair. I thought, “How hard can that be?”

So I started counting, “One, two, three, four, five…” Then I saw something strange happening in the background and had to struggle to keep counting. When the video was over, Dr. Banaji asked the group to shout out the number of passes we counted. There was a range between 7 and 11.

“Ten or eleven is what most people get,” she said.

Then she asked, “Did anyone see anything else?”

I raised my hand. When I looked around, I was the only one. I thought, “Uh oh, I’ve been set up.”

Dr. Banaji asked for my name and what I saw. I told her.

“Well, we all know that some people see hallucinations, maybe Hart is one of those,”  she joked. We all laughed.

“Let’s take a look,” she said cuing up the video again.

When she replayed the video the whole room “sees” what I saw. That’s when she said, “Everyone should have a Hart on their team. Someone who might look at things differently and help the team make sure they have all the information for making the best decisions.”

I was surprised when we watched the video again, and very glad, that there really was something to BE seen; which was proof that I was not hallucinating after all. Whew!

I don’t want to spoil it for those of you who have not seen this video, so I’ll just say, “…no it was not a gorilla.”

That was just one of many exercises Dr. Banaji and the other presenters used to persuade this group, trained to be fair and impartial, that implicit bias does exist for us all. I didn’t expect to be pulled into the exercise, but it was great fun. I’m newly inspired to use my “different way of seeing things” to explore ways that we can “partner with our brains” and be more successful in our day to day interactions.

If you want more information on this topic you can get it here. Validity data is also available. You can even take a number of Implicit Association Tests, in the privacy of your own room, to learn more about yourself. Give it try. See what you discover.

Dr. Banaji is a great presenter. She is brilliant, funny, and very engaging. If you get a chance to hear her present on this topic, go for it. You’ll be glad you did!

COMING SOON – Insights from the conference: “What can we do about implicit bias?”


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