Newsletter Article

Tackling Implicit Bias in Society

Tony Greenwald
Tony Greenwald

In recent times, we have heard public figures including US presidential candidates, the FBI director, and heads of major technology corporations discuss the role of “implicit bias” in a wide range of social disparities. UW Psychology’s own Tony Greenwald (Professor in the Department since 1986) is the world’s leading scientist behind implicit bias and he invented the Implicit Association Test, a widely used tool to study these hidden implicit biases, in his Guthrie Hall laboratory in 1994.

Now that implicit bias has leaped from the scientific journals to the world at large, how does Greenwald think policy makers should approach implicit bias? Greenwald believes that making changes in society will involve more than teaching people about their implicit biases (this might even backfire as it could cause people to feel ‘accused’), and will instead require encouraging institutions to use decision-making processes that block the operations of implicit biases. For example, in his book “Blindspot” with Mahzarin Banaji, Greenwald notes how symphony orchestras became more gender balanced after auditions were changed so that the gender of the player was not evident to those evaluating their work.

Noting that changes required to avoid bias in most organizations are generally quite substantial, Greenwald observes that “in most organizations, these changes are unlikely until the person at the top of the organization takes it as a personal goal to bring about equal opportunity and equal treatment”. Learn more about implicit bias and the Implicit Association Test here. The UW Psychology Department is at the forefront of producing scientific insights that can address social disparities. To support scholarship on these topics, please consider donating to the UW Psychology Department, or our targeted Diversity Fund. You can learn more about diversity in our department here.