#SolutionsMonday: Mitigating the Effects of Bias

mitigating bias


by Isaac Butler

Last week, we talked about some things that people can do that actually can decrease implicit bias over time. While that’s really important work for us all to do, there’s quite a bit of evidence that being completely free from bias is likely impossible. Equally important, then, is making sure that bias does not overwhelm the better angels of our nature and influence our behavior and decision making.

Here are some ways that you can counteract the effect of bias, based on the work of Perception research advisor Jerry Kang:

Doubt Objectivity— When we assume our own objectivity, implicit bias affects us more not less. Instead of assuming we’re considering things objectively, we need to understand how implicit bias works. By doing this, and by being skeptical of our own objectivity, we can decrease the likelihood of biased decision making.

Increase Motivation to be Fair—One obvious strategy our culture tends to use is to increase people’s fear of being called out for being racist. The problem with this strategy is it raises our racial anxiety, causing all sorts of secondary problems. Instead of increasing our worry about being called out, we need to increase our internal motivation to be fair. Concentrating on a positive desire for fairness rather than fear helps to decrease biased actions.

Improve Conditions of Decision-Making—Implicit bias happens automatically, and influences our decision making automatically. When we take ourselves off autopilot—when we “think slow” instead of “thinking fast”— and move forward deliberately, our behavior tends to actually reflect our values instead of our biases.

Focus on Outcomes—implicitly biased behavior is best detected by using data to determine patterns. Is a process we think is fair leading to racially disparate outcomes? It’s likely that bias is affecting that process in ways we hadn’t considered.