Have you noticed some people stereotyping or being biased towards others without being aware of it? This is known as implicit bias. Without you knowing it, you may have your own biases, too. Your children, even if they are as young as six years old, also have their biases. If not managed early on, there is a danger for these implicit biases to get stronger and affect their future lives and relationships with others.
Let us learn more about implicit bias and how you can help your children manage it.
Table of Contents
- What is implicit bias?
- What are some types and examples of implicit bias in kids?
- Implicit vs explicit bias
- Causes: Where do implicit biases come from?
- Effects: How does implicit bias affect society?
- 4 tips on how you can help manage implicit bias on your children
What is implicit bias?
Implicit bias, also known as unconscious bias, refers to our tendency to unconsciously view things in a way that favors our preference instead of being neutral. It refers to the built-in stereotypes that we have, whether favorable or not, about other people based on race, age, appearance, and other characteristics without being aware of it.
Implicit bias is generally driven by our past experiences, familial background, cultural stands, and media representations. Even without intention, these unconscious tendencies are part of what influences our actions—both verbal and nonverbal.
Implicit biases can be very crucial as it affects relationships and future successes, and so must be managed as early as possible.
What are some types and examples of implicit bias in kids?
The following are common types and examples of implicit bias that could be present in children, which are also common in adults:
- Affinity bias – when a child prefers to connect and play with those who share similar interests, experiences, and background with him or her.
- Attribution bias – when a child usually judges someone’s action based on past observations, as well as previous interactions with him or her.
- Conformity bias – also called “peer pressure”, wherein a child has the tendency to act similarly to other kids around him/her regardless of one’s uniqueness.
- The halo effect – when a child places someone on a pedestal after learning something impressive about them.
- The horns effect – the opposite of the “halo effect” wherein a child tends to view another kid or person negatively after learning something unpleasant or negative about them.
- Gender bias – when a child tends to prefer one gender over another.
- Ageism – when a child tends to have negative feelings about someone based on their age just like the tendency to disrespect or put down younger kids.
- Beauty bias – when a kid believes that attractive people are generally better than the rest.
- Height bias – when a child tends to judge someone who is significantly shorter or taller than others.
- Racial bias – when a child unconsciously has prejudices or the child behaves differently towards someone, because of that person’s color, race, or ethnicity.
These biases are a normal part of growing up, especially with little kids. However, managing these biases early on can help them develop social and cultural intelligence crucial for your child’s holistic development and future success.
Implicit vs explicit bias
The keyword that differentiates implicit and explicit bias is the word “conscious”. While implicit biases happen outside of one’s conscious awareness and control, explicit biases are those that we are aware of on a conscious level. Explicit biases are intentional. A clear example of an explicit bias is making racist comments.
Causes: Where do implicit biases come from?
Having implicit bias does not mean that we agree on discriminating other people or that we are inclined to prejudices. Inasmuch as we don’t want to be biased, implicit associations might be something out of our control.
So where do implicit biases come from? How do we and our children develop it?
Well, you see our brains are wired in such a way that makes it capable of making associations and generalizations without us being aware of it. By nature, we have the tendency to seek out patterns and associations. We also like to simplify the world and take shortcuts and so we tend to generalize and stereotype other people.
The development of implicit biases also comes from experience and exposure. It begins at a very early age through exposure to direct and indirect messages from our parents, older siblings, relatives, friends, teachers, and other contacts. The media also plays a big role in shaping these implicit biases even at a very young age.
Effects: How does implicit bias affect society?
Implicit biases lie in our subconscious and they are often predictive of our actions and demeanor in the real world. They can affect how we behave towards ourselves and others in different settings, including schools, workplaces, healthcare settings, and even in legal settings.
Take the following examples of how unconscious bias can affect society.
Implicit bias has been studied to lead to “stereotype threat“, which means that kids internalize negative concepts about themselves based on group associations. For example, by nine years old, young girls would exhibit unconscious beliefs that females have a preference for Language over Math. Over the years, as this bias becomes stronger, those girls would most likely avoid pursuing careers in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) field.
Implicit bias can also affect how teachers respond to group behavior. In one study, for instance, teachers were more likely to focus on the behavior of Black children than White children when asked to watch for challenging student behaviors. This led to more Black children- Black boys in particular – getting expelled from school over behavioral issues.
Implicit associations have resulted in the following surprising effects and observations in the workplace:
- Many African and Latina Women report being mistaken for administrative or custodial staff (racial bias);
- Job applicants with African-American, Asian, and Hispanic names are less likely to get interview callbacks (racial bias);
- Many corporate CEOs in the U.S are at least over 6 feet tall, but only less than 15% of U.S. men are actually over 6 feet tall (height bias); and
- Taller men are more likely to earn more than shorter men (height bias).
Because of these biases, many affected employees would feel alienated. Many would hold their ideas or solutions and most of them would not refer to their employers.
In healthcare settings, studies find the following examples of unconscious bias leading to health disparities:
- Women with heart disease symptoms are less likely to receive referral, diagnosis, and treatment than men due to misdiagnosis of stress/anxiety;
- Black patients are less likely prescribed with pain medications than White patients by White male physicians;
- It is a common assumption by doctors that their Black or low-income patients are less intelligent, less likely to cling on to medical advice, and more likely to engage in unsafe behaviors than their White or higher-income patients;
- Pregnant women encounter discrimination from healthcare providers based on their ethnicity and socio-economic background.
While most of these healthcare setting biases are racial or ethnic by nature, other implicit bias factors would include sex, sexual identity, socioeconomic status, education level, age, disability, and geographic location.
Implicit bias, particularly racial in nature, is seen to have very troubling effects in legal actions from police contact to sentencing. According to research, there is a staggering racial disparity in how Black defendants are being dealt with. For example, they are less likely to be offered plea bargains and are more likely to get harsher and longer sentences than White defendants.
To sum up all examples, implicit biases can cause alienation, disparity, and discrimination that can have lasting impacts on the people affected.
4 Tips on how you can help manage implicit bias on your children
Unconscious bias is part of nature, but it does not mean there is no way to reduce or manage it, especially on your children. Here are some helpful tips you can use consider:
- Acknowledge that unconscious bias exists. The first step to addressing any problem is acknowledging that such problem exists. Whether you like it or not, implicit bias exists. You are just not aware of it! Even if your kids are young, such biases are already developing.
- Incorporate mindfulness exercises to your routine. As simple as breathing exercises every morning, some meditation, or a weekend yoga can help your child be more mindful of his/her behavior and actions. Mindfulness can help reduce the implications of implicit bias.
- Be a role model. Since many of your child’s association patterns come from their experience and exposure with you as a parent, you need to be a good role model. Reflect on your own personal biases and make an effort to adjust your responses and reactions to different situations with different people.
- Develop your child’s cultural intelligence. You can do this by increasing your family’s exposure to different cultures and people of different racial backgrounds. You can visit museums, attend exhibits, and travel when you can. Encourage your child to get to know other kids at school apart from her close friends. Developing cultural intelligence can help your child manage implicit biases.
Implicit bias is an unavoidable unconscious tendency, but there is certainly something we can do about it. Especially for our children who are still in their developmental stages, we can help them manage stereotypes and biases through mindfulness activities and exploration of different cultures and peoples. By controlling implicit biases early on, we can help reduce alienation, isolation, and even discrimination and help promote diversity and inclusivity in different social groups.