January 1, 2008
Implicit Bias and the Struggle Against Discrimination
While direct discrimination is usually understood as deliberate action expressing a conscious intent to discriminate, the reviewed research within this report by Linda Hamilton Krieger demonstrates that discrimination can also result from the unintentional, unconscious application of gender, racial, ethnic and other stereotypes that people – even well intentioned ones – absorb from their cultural environment. These more subtle forms of discrimination occur because stereotypes function not only as consciously held beliefs about social groups, but also as deep mental structures that unknowingly distort people’s perceptions about individual members of stereotyped groups.
Stereotypes, this research shows, can operate implicitly, biasing a decision maker’s social judgment. Unless equal opportunity policies are designed to address these more subtle forms of bias, they will not succeed in eliminating discrimination or effectuating equality of opportunity. They will simply naturalize and re-legitimate them.