Experts Trying to Tackle 'Implicit Bias'

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 Utah) - No one likes to think they are bias towards others, but years of study now show many of us treat people different, and may not realize it. Experts are trying to expose implicit bias because of the impact it has on people's everyday lives. Especially for people of color in the justice system.

Joseph Sawyer is the Director Of Distance Learning at National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada. Which is a school for judges. He's been trying to teach about implicit bias, and how it impacts a judge's decisions on the bench.

Harvard University has developed a series of tests known as Project Implicit which aims to show people's implicit bias.

"Just because we believe we're fair we should be able to prove it," said Sawyer.

Several studies have shown that people of color receive harsher sentences than white people who commit the same crime. Sawyer notes the tests are a way to show people their implicit bias so they can be mindful of it when making decisions.

"How that affects a judges decision, and making it so judges can sort of prevent that from happening," said Sawyer. "So they can keep track of their fairness."

Sawyer points out race is only one category of implicit bias. The Harvard tests can also show results on the basis of gender, disability, or sexual orientation.

The best explanation Sawyer had for implicit bias not dealing with race, was for the poor. According to one study it showed certain parts of the brain lit up when people saw a pile of garbage. The same area became active when they saw a homeless person.

"So we make that association outside of language implicitly of a homeless person in the same way we process garbage," said Sawyer.

While programs like these are being adopted by law enforcement and other judicial agencies. Experts are hopeful more people will take the tests to realize their implicit biases, and gather better data to study.



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