Last year, the Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of State Court Administrators issued a resolution to intensify efforts to combat racial prejudice in the justice system, both explicit and implicit. While those exhibiting explicit bias are aware of their prejudices and attitudes toward a certain group, implicit biases are hidden. They are subconscious attitudes or beliefs people have about others based on past experiences or influences, which manifest themselves everywhere.
While implicit biases can be more difficult to uncover and address, a recently released report from the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) shows there is hope that these biases can be lessened by teaching people how to override their automatic gut reactions.
“Embedded in the architecture of our daily lives, many of these associations can be, or have become, invisible to us,” Jennifer Elek and Andrea Miller, NCSC researchers, write in the report. “We may not endorse these associations, but they can nevertheless contaminate our choices and leak out through our behavior to impact others in ways that we do not intend.”
The report, titled “The Evolving Science of Implicit Bias: An Updated Resource for the State Court Community,” explores how implicit bias fits into broader conversations about equity and fairness and summarizes current psychological research around implicit bias, including effective strategies. Additionally, the report defines key terminology originating from research into implicit bias addresses implications for legal professionals.
Reducing Implicit Bias in the Courts
Based on their analyses of physiological research on bias interventions, the authors offered three key takeaways that have practical implications for courts and their communities:
- General interventions that attempt to reduce prejudice and discrimination through positive, meaningful intergroup contact are some of the most effective strategies for courts.
- Activities that include the following have the biggest impact: 1) different groups working toward a common goal, 2) the groups have equal status in the activity, 3) the activity allows individuals to get to know each other on an individual basis, and 4) the activity receives institutional support or support from the relevant authority figures.
- Implicit bias interventions that attempt to change implicit associations in memory are not consistently effective.
- While some change interventions can reduce the strength of implicit associations, they are difficult to implement, don’t tend to last longer than a few days, and don’t tend to change subsequent behavior.
- Implicit bias interventions that bypass or disrupt biased responding show more promise.
- Expression interventions, which disrupt the expression of the underlying implicit bias by teaching people how to override their automatic gut reactions or decisions with a more egalitarian response, show more promise than trying to retrain the brain.
Implicit bias research is continually developing, meaning there are still many unknowns. However, legal professionals across the board would be wise to make themselves aware of implicit bias and actively work against it to provide a more effective and fair justice system. As summarized by Elek and Miller, “Educate not just to raise awareness, but to build capacity for change.”
If you’d like to learn more about the implications of implicit bias, including strategies to counter it in our personal and professional lives, take our free CLE, “Rebalance the Scales: Implicit Bias, Diversity, and the Legal Profession.”
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