Understanding Implicit Bias

What is implicit, or unconscious, bias? These are assumptions, thoughts, and actions that we believe or act out without explicit thought.

There are some unconscious biases that are protective — ie, seeing a flame triggers a thought that it is likely hot, which leads us to not touch it. However, there are unconscious biases that hurt those around us — such as having a preference for people who look like us, talk like us, and have a similar life to us. In preferring those who are similar, and conversely being biased against those who are different, we can perpetuate inequities.

These resources are intended to help departments understand implicit bias, identify biases, and recognize how they may affect patient care, physician training, and departmental culture. 

Video Resources

Unconscious Bias in Recruiting

This video provides a brief overview of unconscious bias, discussing the rapid, unconscious decisions we make and how we "reshape the facts to justify what our unconscious has already decided."

Hidden Biases of Good People

Harvard Psychologist Mahzarin Banaji discusses how our brains are wired to produce implicit bias. Watch this video prior to taking the implicit association test below.

Bystander Intervention

In this video, University of Michigan's Michael Herrington and Vu Willey discuss bystander intervention skills and how they can build inclusive, respectful, and safe communities.

Implicit Association Tests

Take an Implicit Association Test from Project Implicit on topics including race, age, gender, and disability.

Project Implicit was founded in 1998 by scientists from University of Washington, Harvard University, and University of Virginia to educate the public about hidden biases and to use the internet as a “virtual laboratory” for testing implicit biases.

Implicit Bias Reduction Quick Reference

This is a list of research-proven strategies to reduce implicit bias (Adapted from Capers IV, Q. (2020). How clinicians and educators can mitigate implicit bias in patient care and candidate selection in medical education. ATS Scholar, 1(3), 211-217 (https://doi.org/10.34197/ats-scholar.2020-0024PS).

University of Michigan Anesthesiology Residency Program Faculty and Resident Interview Groups implemented this reference sheet during the 2020 virtual recruitment cycle.

Consider the Opposite

This is a strategy in which the selection committee member reviews a file and/or interviews an applicant to form an initial impression and disposition, then takes a mental pause to rereview the data looking for evidence supporting the opposite conclusion. This is followed by making a final decision. This exercise has been shown to mitigate the impact of implicit bias.

Common Identity Formation

The evaluator searches the application or questions the interviewee looking for common group identities between the candidate and the evaluator. Successfully finding a common group identity reduces the evaluator’s negative implicit bias toward the candidate. For instance, discovering that the evaluator and the candidate share a love of music, competency in a language, knowledge of aviation, etc., indicates that they share membership in the same group. Recast in this light, the candidate, regardless of their demographic, is now a fellow group member and no longer perceived as an outsider. This awareness lessens negative associations and reduces the impact of implicit biases.

Counterstereotypical Exemplars

Focus on individuals you admire and respect who are in the same demographic as the candidate.

Perspective Taking

This requires intentionally empathizing with the applicant (or patient), taking a few moments to visualize their life and what they have gone through leading up to this encounter and what their life will be like afterwards. The purpose of this exercise is to develop empathy that actively opposes unconscious bias.