Implicit Unconscious Bias, 1118 ALBJ, 79 The Alabama Lawyer 419 (2018)

AuthorGregory S. Cusimano, J.
PositionVol. 79 6 Pg. 419

Implicit Unconscious Bias

Vol. 79 No. 6 Pg. 419

Alabama Bar Lawyer

November, 2018

Gregory S. Cusimano, J.

Joe and Ted walked into a coffee shop. Joe walked over to the manager and asked if he could use the restroom. He was told only paying customers could use the restroom, so they took a seat at a table. The manager walked over and asked if he could help with water or other drinks. They thanked him and said they had water and were there for a meeting. Less than four minutes from the time Joe and Ted entered the coffee shop, the manager called the police saying, "There are two gentlemen in my cafe that are refusing to make a purchase or leave."1 Interestingly, when the dispatcher put out the call to the police, he said, "We've got a disturbance there. A group of males refusing to leave."2 The police arrived, and the two men were arrested, handcuffed and removed from the coffee shop. A spokesperson for the coffee shop reported, "In this particular store, the guidelines were that partners must ask unpaying customers to leave the store, and police were to be called if they refused."3

You probably recognize this story from what happened in Philadelphia in a Starbucks store. Of course, the men were not Joe and Ted. They were Rashon and Donte and they were black. Would the manager react the same way if they were Joe and Ted and white? Would the police act the same way if they were white? Maybe or maybe not. Perhaps this is an example of an unconscious bias.

It is likely the capability to recognize the differences between certain people and particular animals aided in the survival of the human race. Differentiating danger from safety helped our earliest ancestors thrive and survive. It also caused them to quickly and routinely cognitively categorize and group others. This normal human condition was probably the basis of prototypes, bias and prejudice. These mental shortcuts or heuristics are basic, helpful rules of thumb we all use to make decisions and shape judgments. They can become unconscious and are often inaccurate.

Social scientists postulate that we begin to develop biases, prototypes and prejudices at a very young age, even preschool as early as three years old. A bias is not necessarily against something, someone or some group compared to another. It is a tendency to disfavor or favor a person, group or thing to another, often an assessment, judgment or opinion without evidence, information or even reason. A cognitive bias is one resulting from a repetitious pattern or system that is different from the norm or standard-an involuntary way or arrangement of thinking that distorts the way people, situations or environments are perceived. It reflects a leaning to think in a certain way, which frequently is irrational and can cause errors in thinking and conclusion. Cognitive bias is often described as a blunder in reasoning that affects judgments and decisions.

System 1-System 2

In Daniel Kahneman's book Thinking, Fast and Slow, he discusses how we make decisions using the terms "System 1" and "System 2."[4] System 1 is an automatic, intuitive, fast, emotional approach and System 2 is an analytical, slow, logical deliberate approach. Most of our decisions occur in System 1. In many ways, implicit bias is a System 1 process, although some say not to the depth of unconsciousness involved in implicit bias. In years past, System 1 was considered irrational.

Although subject to greater error, it is now accepted that System l's fast thinking is sometimes useful and may be logical. Since Kahneman's pivotal work, most now agree that most decisions are made or influenced by System 1. This system handles thoughts that occur outside of awareness, for example, riding a bicycle. Once you learn, no one needs to think turn to the left if you are falling left or to the right when falling right. Upon learning how to ride a bicycle, we do it automatically and without effort. Because of the speed and efficiency of System 1, we stay upright.

The same would be true for driving a straight-shift car if one ever learned, so this mental association requires no conscious or effortful thought.5 Once we learn to read, we cannot unlearn it. In contrast, System 2 is often slow, difficult thinking. Working on a math equation or filling out a tax form requires us to concentrate resulting in mental effort. As are apparent, implicit biases are a part of System 1.

What Is Implicit Bias?

Implicit Bias/Implicit Association, sometimes called Implicit Social Cognition, relates to the views, schemas, attitudes or stereotypes we hold in our unconscious mind.

It often refers to our thoughts, views or feelings about others likely based on race, age, appearance, ethnicity, religion, gender or origin. They are subtle, but persuasive. Implicit biases are spontaneous, cognitive and concealed. They occur in our life beginning early and developing through direct and indirect experiences and messages. They do not arise from a bad intent and are distinguished from explicit biases of which we are conscious.

These biases influence our decisions, conduct and understanding causing us to deduce in a favorable or unfavorable way, which may or may not be accurate. They occur without control or conscious decision and we are unaware they are happening. It is important to understand they are different from biases we might recognize from introspection, but decide they are not recognizable in ourselves. They are different from explicit biases, referring to beliefs and attitudes we may have of which we are conscious or aware. Even so, implicit biases can be discovered through proper testing.

Implicit biases often are different from what we say our beliefs are. They may favor our tribe or group, but can be against our tribe. They are inescapable and universal. We all possess implicit and explicit bias, even judges6 who claim objectivity.

Those of us who acknowledge fair purposes and work to treat all equally will likely conduct ourselves in ways that mirror implicit rather than explicit biases. Because they are unconscious and involuntary, they have a great effect on decision-making. Although we think of bias resulting from race, gender, age, religion or education, they exist from weight, height, political party, social status, appearance, associations and more. Implicit bias is an unconscious bias, but the term unconscious bias is aptly used as a description.

Studies illustrating examples of implicit bias: • More than 500 letters of recommendation were reviewed for a medical faculty of an American medical school and it was noted there was a significant difference in letters written for males and those for females. Those for women raised more doubts, describing them as teachers or students and men as professionals and researchers. The personal lives of the females were more likely included.7

• Research sponsored by the Cardiovascular Research Foundation (CRF) revealed that when a stressful life event was recognized as a heart disease symptom it was identified as psychogenic when provided by a female and organic when offered by a male.8

• In simulations, Americans are faster and more accurate when firing on armed blacks than when firing on armed whites, and faster and more accurate in electing to hold their fire when confronting unarmed whites than when confronting unarmed blacks.9

• Employment of female musicians increased when orchestras used blind auditions hiding the identities of the applicants.10 When a criminal defendant is black, they do not seem to get along as well as comparable positioned white defendants. Does that result in bench trials with judges making the decisions as well as well as juries?11

We develop stereotypes, schemas, biases and attitudes without even knowing they exist. Research scientists have developed a number of ways to gauge and measure implicit attitudes and biases. The most available and common measure is reaction time used in the...

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