Changing Implicit Bias May Not Change Behavior - International Coach Federation
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Changing Implicit Bias May Not Change Behavior

Posted by Tyler Parker | October 28, 2019 | Comments (4)

Do you assume that changing implicit bias ultimately changes behavior? If so, you may want to reconsider. A recent meta-analysis of research papers about implicit bias did not find a casual relationship between the two.

What is implicit bias?

“All the little ways in which our everyday thinking about social stuff is unconscious or uncontrollable,” says Calvin Lai, assistant professor of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis, “The stuff that we don’t realize is influencing us when we make decisions.”

Lai and Patrick Forscher, of the University of Arkansas, reviewed of 492 studies, which included more than 87,000 participants.

Calvin and Forscher found studies that suggested biases can change, although, not dramatically. After digging deeper into their research and looking at 63 studies that heavily considered a link between changes in behavior and change in biases, they did not find any evidence of a causal relationship between the two.

“We definitely didn’t expect this,” Lai says. “And it challenges assumptions about the relationship between implicit bias and behavior.”

Calvin suggested four possible reasons for this outcome:

  • Measurement errors
  • Confounds
  • Measured too narrow of a bias
  • No causal relationship

Lai also acknowledges that the study was limited by the available literature, was heavily skewed towards university students and included short interventions and assessments.

Instead of changing implicit biases, Lai suggests ending societal aspects or features that cause people to act in a biased nature in order to change behavior. For example, if your coaching client is trying find better work/life balance but has a bias to work from anywhere at any time, you could suggest that they set an alarm to leave the office by a specific time every day, remove their work email from their phone, or even block colleagues’ numbers from contacting them after work hours.

“Equip people with strategies to resist the environment’s biasing influence,” Lai says.

So, how can you help equip your coaching clients to avoid biasing behavior?  Share in the comments.

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Tyler Parker

Tyler Parker is ICF's Communications and Community Engagement Coordinator. She's holds a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism with a minor in political science from the University of Kentucky. She has gained experience in the public sector, the nonprofit sector and the wonderful world of journalism.

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts featured on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The publication of a guest post on the ICF Blog does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.

Comments (4)

  1. Henrik Schalech says:

    Interesting reading, and absolute relevant for us working with people and their biases.

    But if I: “suggest that they set an alarm to leave the office by a specific time every day, remove their work email from their phone, or even block colleagues’ numbers from contacting them after work hours.” – I’m not doing coaching.

    So the question here is: How can I coach, and help them develop relevant strategies for working around their biases?”

    • Thomas O'Toole-Mills says:

      Perhaps get them to recount a time they got distracted from their goal – dragged back into the behaviours they want to change – to help them identify biases in their environment.

      You could then follow up with: “What could you change about your environment to help you get to your goal/change your behaviours?”

      Hopefully, that’s more along the lines of coaching rather than mentoring.

  2. says:

    The Productivity topic has gone down this route – create conditions that make it likely you will succeed rather than trying to overhaul your character etc. What I like about the “create conducive conditions” approach is that it draws our attention to givernance and ethical practices embedded in our everyday activities. From how we set up and conduct meetings, to how we communicate on whatsapp, social media etc. The job to be done is to create a habitat in which people can grow themselves, not try to grow the people. Thank you for writing this as it invites us to respond with critical reflection not assumptions passed off as if fact.

  3. says:

    I see great results in “daily” intentions to create balance at work and home, as we know today those are colliding more rapidly. Those daily intentions can easily be shared with employees, co-workers, family to create more balance for a healthier ecosystem. Does more work equal better productivity and better relationships? What daily intentions create better and healthier environments? We all get one day to make an impact.

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