Oct 14 History of Psychology Virtual Workshop: How Our Biases Became Implicit

AHP reader may be interested in the next History of Psychology Virtual Workshop on Wednesday, October 14th 1pm (Eastern). This month’s workshop explores ‘How Our Biases Became Implicit‘; interested attendees can register here. Full details below.

Implicit bias is one of psychology’s most (in)famous contributions to the popular lexicon. The concept’s entry into the North American public sphere is sustained by the availability of the Implicit Association Test and the rise of the implicit bias training industry in organizations. Theories of implicit bias suggest that ongoing discrimination, like racism and sexism, are sustained not be conscious, explicit beliefs but by implicit, unconscious, automatic biases we all hold.

Yet the very prevalence of implicit bias has fuelled a backlash. Some vocal critics of the IAT challenge its methodology (eg. how the algorithms derive cutoff scores) and predictive validity, concerned that the associations it measures don’t correlate to real-world behaviour. These criticisms, ostensibly about psychometrics, embed political concerns about the overreach of implicit bias and a broader opposition to diversity and inclusion policies. The conservative backlash against implicit bias just reached its peak with the latest US executive order, which essentially forbids government contractors from conducting implicit bias training.

For more left-leaning radical critics, the problem with implicit bias is that it doesn’t go far enough. Their worry is that implicit bias neither names nor addresses the structural and systemic factors that produced and sustain racism or sexism or other inequalities. This session will explore questions about the intertwined scientific and social dimensions of implicit bias. What are the implications for understanding racism and sexism in terms of individual implicit bias? What are the stakes when psychological concepts travel in the world? Do criticisms of implicit bias risk feeding into this conservative backlash? How can historical and critical approaches to psychology navigate the scientific and political stakes of implicit bias?


Jeffrey Yen, Kevin Durrheim and Romin Tafarodi, “I’m happy to own my implicit biases’: Public encounters with the Implicit Association Test,” British Journal of Social Psychology (2018)


Olivia Goldhill, “The World is Relying on a Flawed Psychological Test to Fight Racism,” Quartz (Dec) 2017)

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.