Unconscious bias (or implicit bias) are biases or social stereotypes that we hold which can affect our actions, how we organise our world, and how we are treated in the world. Everyone has unconscious biases and everyone is impacted by them.
The term was coined in the late 90's by scientists at at The University of Washington and Yale who created IAT tests which assessed involuntary biases around race, gender, and sexuality (Devlin, 2018). These tests are still available online as part of Harvard's Project Implicit.
Although the IAT tests aren't conclusive and people can get different results at different periods (Devlin, 2018); it can't be argued that these biases do not exist or do not affect people's lives. This interesting article from BBC Future explores the myths and reality of gender bias in healthcare. In 2017 the NHS published explicit guidelines that staff must "listen to women", as conditions such as endometriosis can take up to seven years to diagnose (Boseley, 2017).
It's not just healthcare, unconscious bias can affect any aspect of people's lives. A small study by The Guardian earlier this year found that those with traditionally white names get more viewings when house hunting (Duncan, 2018); and there is the oft quoted stat that there are more men called John running FTSE 100 companies than there are women (Rankin, 2015). The clincher in this study is that women are not second to Johns; there are also more Davids than women.
Bias can affect every aspect of life, whether it's women only making up 24% of the STEM workforce (WISE, 2017); that there are only two black Michelin starred chefs in the UK (Mohdin, 2018); how you are 8 times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police if you are black (Townsend, 2018); or how there is only one openly out CEO of a FTSE 100 company (Boyde, 2016).
Unconscious biases are the ones that slip under the radar and permeate culture, even if we are taking action to try to combat more overt conscious bias. For example, this great article in the Financial Times highlights how LGBTQ+ employees hide elements of themselves in the workplace; and despite measures to tackle homophobia unconscious biases persist as the majority of images we see in our day to day lives outside of the workplace are heteronormative.
So why are we, a youth arts organisation, exploring unconscious bias? In short, because it's important and it affects children's lives. A study published by the British Psychological Society explored the myth that 'white people feel more pain than black people', and found that by aged 7 children had weak biases, but by aged 10 they held strong biases that were repeatable - i.e. unlike the IAT tests which can produce varied results, children were displaying the same biases again and again (Dore, 2014).
It also affects children's lives in more direct ways. Children from areas of high poverty - Worcester has a 23% child poverty rate - are more likely to ''negatively self stereotype'' (Fell and Hewstone, 2015), affecting their grades, confidences and how they engage with their communities. This is in part due to how working class people are portrayed in the media, and in shows such as Jeremy Kyle.
Furthermore, children of colour are more likely to be admonished for calling out in class and those will less traditionally white sounding names are more likely to be given lower grades (Eddo-Lodge, 2017). A study 2016 study by Yale University also highlighted that educators are more likely to empathise with children who have complicated or difficult lives if they are the same race as the child (Young, 2016). (We couldn't find any specific stats of how this affects children in the UK - but if you know of any studies or things that we should read - please get in touch!)
Unconscious biases are hard to change by their nature, they are inate and societal. But if we are aware of how they work and potential biases that we hold, we can look at measures to combat their effects. If you would like to know more about the work we're doing to improve inclusiveness in Worcester, then click here.