Implicit Biases: What They Are and Why They Are Important

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  • Author Robin Akins
  • Published November 21, 2023
  • Word count 1,023

Did you know that unconscious prejudice impacts as much as 95 percent of the population? We tend to trust people who look, act, and believe the same way we do, and you may be aware of some of these prejudices in yourself. But did you know there could be other prejudices that you aren’t even aware you have impacting your behavior? 

Implicit bias impacts all of us, and it can play a major role in upholding systems of oppression. Read on to learn more about implicit biases and how they impact people with disabilities in particular.

What Is Implicit Bias?

In simplest terms, an implicit bias is an association, belief, or attitude you don’t realize you have. This unconscious bias can be positive or negative, but it usually isn’t based on any objective evidence or truth. You can hold an implicit bias toward any social group, including people of different races, gender identities, sexualities, abilities, economic classes, and more.

The thing that makes a bias implicit is that it operates on a completely unconscious level. We all have implicit biases, both positive and negative, that impact how we interact with the people around us. Uncovering and dismantling these biases takes a lot of conscious introspection and self-examination.

What Causes It? 

At its core, implicit bias is a result of the natural human need for social connections. We know that we need social groups, and we naturally identify people who are similar to us as being good, because we all believe we ourselves are good. The problem is that this also means we typically associate people who are different than us as being bad.

Implicit bias is often the result of societal influences as well. For instance, modern Western society believes that thinner people are healthier, more hardworking, and more beautiful. Many of us grow up with a positive implicit bias towards people who are thin and a negative implicit bias towards people who are larger.

Why Does It Matter? 

So if these biases are unconscious and not the result of malicious prejudice, why do they matter? Whether we realize they’re there or not, our implicit biases influence how we behave towards other people. We tend to trust and help people who we have positive implicit biases towards more than those we have negative implicit biases towards.

This sort of implicit bias can be a huge part of how systemic oppression gets upheld. People who fit more positive implicit biases tend to get more opportunities, especially in their careers, than people who fit more negative implicit biases. Seeing these people in positions of power and success tends to reinforce those implicit biases in society.

Implicit Bias Against Disabilities

One of the biggest areas of implicit bias in our society is a bias against persons with disabilities.

One study showed that 76 percent of people have an implicit bias towards people without visible disabilities. Just 9 percent had an implicit bias towards people with visible disabilities. It’s important to note that even respondents who themselves had disabilities showed this same bias. 

As of last year, just 19 percent of people with disabilities were employed, compared to nearly 64 percent of people without a disability.

Disabled people are about half as likely to get married as non-disabled people. They’re between two and ten times more likely to suffer from depression.

About 40 percent of homeless people have some sort of disability. Disabled people are almost 18 percent less likely to graduate than non-disabled people. 

Oftentimes, implicit biases play a role in holding people with disabilities back in life. Employers may not want to hire them and people may not view them as a good potential romantic partner or friend. Teachers may grade them more harshly, and schools may reject their applications because of their disability.

How to Uncover Your Implicit Biases 

So if implicit bias happens on a subconscious level, how can we become aware of them and start to change them? One of the easiest ways these days is to do an implicit bias assessment.

There are lots of free assessments online. They cover a wide array of implicit biases, from sexuality and race to ability, gender identity, socioeconomic status, and more.

It’s also a good idea to get in the practice of questioning your assumptions about people. When you see a person with disabilities, what initial feelings do you have, and what assumptions do you make? Becoming aware of those first-blush impressions can be a good step towards identifying your implicit biases. 

How to Reduce Implicit Bias 

Once you’re aware of your implicit biases, how do you begin the work of reducing and changing them? First of all, work on seeing the people you have implicit biases against as individuals, rather than members of a social group. Find out their favorite food, what sort of music they like, whether they have pets, and so on, and start to get to know them as a person.

While your implicit biases may be subconscious, that doesn’t mean you can’t consciously change them. When you interact with someone you have a negative implicit bias towards, make an effort to push back against those immediate assumptions you make. And spending more time around the group you have implicit biases against can be a great way to dismantle those prejudices. You may also want to become a quantum thinker to address issues of implicit bias.

Learn More About Implicit Biases 

Implicit bias is something that we all have, and it takes real work to uncover and dismantle our implicit biases. But this work is important, because these prejudices can have a big impact on who succeeds and who doesn’t in our society. Take an implicit bias test, work to change your stereotypes, and spend more time around the people you have biases against.

If you’d like to learn more about implicit biases, check out the rest of our site at Cogentica. We advocate for disabled people and run analytical research focused on people with disabilities. Check out some of our surveys today and learn more about the things impacting disabled people in our society.

Robin Akins is the founder of Cogentica, LLC, a disability advocacy and information site founded in 2015. Dr. Akins is a quantitative psychologist with over 40 years of experience in business, government, and education with substantial teaching experience at the college level. He received his doctorate at Temple University in 1992.

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Robin Akins
Robin Akins · 6 months ago
This article also applies to anti-semitism as well as any other negative biases people harbor against others.

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