According to the Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, implicit bias refers to attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions and decisions in an unconscious manner. They differ from suppressed thoughts that we consciously conceal to keep the peace; it is the opposite of explicit bias, which refers to attitudes or beliefs that we fully admit to in our discussions and actions.

Implicit Bias:
  • Operates at a subconscious level; we are not aware of implicit biases.
  • Is contrary to our stated beliefs and attitudes.
  • Is a preference for or against a person or a group of people.
  • Is triggered automatically through rapid association of people/groups/objects and our attitudes and stereotypes about them.
  • Although we truly believe we embrace equity, at times, we behave in a biased and discriminatory manner. Example:  Choosing a seat further away from a Latino student than a white student due to ethnicity.
Explicit Bias:
  • Is expressed directly.
  • Operates on a conscious level; we are aware of explicit bias.
  • Example:  “I like whites more than Latinos.”
What Are Suppressed Thoughts?
  • We purposely conceal these thoughts to “keep the peace.” We just do not want to discuss them so we hide them.
  • They are the opposite of explicit bias, which refers to attitudes or beliefs that we fully admit to. Suppressed thoughts involve bias that we are conscious of, but do not publicly acknowledge.

How Do We Develop Implicit Biases? Every day we are bombarded with an overload of images and bits of information. The human brain cannot process that volume of information. However, our brains absorb each and every one of those images. Since most of it registers subconsciously and not through a cognitive filter that processes and interprets that data, it is “stored” in our brains and subconsciously affects our thoughts and decisions. Some of the unfiltered information manifests itself as our implicit biases.

Implicit bias is found in all realms of society; including in schools. In the next column, we will explore how implicit bias affects students.

The NJSBA’s Equity Council, which consists of board of education members, superintendents, district administrators, and representatives from the state education department, higher education and advocacy groups, meets periodically to examine issues related to equity in education.

As part of the Equity Council’s charge to provide information on best practices and helpful resources to the state’s boards of education, NJSBA publishes a monthly column on the topic in School Board Notes.