Implicit Bias: “It’s in us, it’s in all of us.”

“What you are seeing is all of your past experiences and previous knowledge,” UF Psychology Professor Colin Smith on why the audience perceived the cubes to be of different colors. Photo credit: Jahi Khalfani.

The University of Florida Levin College of Law hosted the first speaker of Race Matters in the News, a series by the Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations (CSRRR), on Wednesday afternoon.

Implicit bias is a hot topic through various disciplines. It has been referenced in hundreds of cases and journals in recent years, according to Katheryn Russell-Brown, CSRRR director.

Colin Smith, Project Implicit director of education and assistant professor in social psychology at the University of Florida, wants to inspire more research in the matter and introduce it to several more disciplines.

“Implicit bias is all of our problem,” Smith said.

He started the presentation with some optical illusions, showing how stripping the context around what seemed to be two different-colored cubes changed the audience’s perception to see them as the same color.

“What you are seeing is all of your past experiences and previous knowledge,” UF Psychology Professor Colin Smith on why the audience perceived the cubes to be of different colors. Photo credit: Jahi Khalfani.

“Everything is an interpretation,” he said. “In essence, there is no reality. There is our interpretation of reality.”

Implicit bias, as Smith explained, is a less controllable preference that one is less aware of and does not endorse. In contrast, explicit bias is one deliberately thought about and reported.

He further illustrated this concept through two journalists’ interpretations of people in chest-deep water with bags of food after Hurricane Katrina. One reporter captioned the picture of two white victims as them “finding” the food, while the other reporter chose the word “looting” to describe the black male appearing to be in exact conditions.

“I am not saying this was unintentional, nor am I saying it was intentional,” the psychology professor said. “But when asked about it, the journalist said he was just describing what he saw.”

The audience of law students, undergraduates, and professors in Holland Hall proceeded to take an Implicit Association Test as a group. The audience was instructed to place pictures of individuals under the categories of “Black” and “White,” followed by a dichotomization of “pleasant” and “unpleasant” words.

When the categories were placed together, and the attendees were to say whether the word or illustration belonged on the left or right side of the screen, things got trickier.

One participant created his own category of “neither.”

“I wasn’t comfortable saying white was ‘excellent’ in absence of black being ‘excellent’,” 1L James Donegan said.

He said this presentation hit close to home for him when the speaker pulled up a slide regarding STEM hiring. Donegan worked for a technology company and looked through hundreds of resumes in order to hire someone to take over his position.

“In that specific realm, there tends to be high discrimination against people of not just different skin colors, but also women,” he said. “The person that replaced me happened to be a white male.”

Before being introduced to the concept of implicit bias at ILSP, Donegan was unfamiliar with the concept. He said that, in hindsight, he might have gone about choosing his successor in a different way.

Law students, professors, and undergraduates attended Race Matters in the News: Implicit Bias, the first event of a series by the UF Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations. Photo credit: Jahi Khalfani.

When is bias influential? According to Smith, bias is most influential when a person is rushed, tired or stressed. Research shows that those with overconfidence in their objectivity actually tend to be more biased, he said.

The solution: developing a practice with the idea that one is biased.

“I am a big promoter of humility,” the speaker said.

In the legal context, Professor Kenneth Nunn said he finds this information very useful.

“I think that it’s important … in terms of the impact of this on juries, the impact of this on hiring, and the impact of it on employment discrimination issues, that we have a better understanding of what these basic principles are.”

In regards to changing implicit bias, Professor Smith said that it is not possible. However, he encouraged the audience to change what goes into their mind and who they associate with.

“You are all powerful people that can change the small world around you,” Smith said. “That’s the only way you can make a difference.”

To find out more about Project Implicit, visit https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/

About Isabella Limonta 3 Articles
Isabella Limonta is a 1L at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. She has a Bachelor of Science in Public Relations and a Master’s Certificate in Global Strategic Communications. Originally from Venezuela, Isabella sees a high importance in having a one-stop shop for pertinent and impartial information. She was a campus editor and writer for a national online news network for young journalists and was published in Hometown News and The Independent Florida Alligator. In the future, Isabella hopes to use her law degree to advocate for underserved populations.