What we can (and can’t) infer about implicit bias from debiasing experiments

Abstract

The received view of implicit bias holds that it is associative and unreflective. Recently, the received view has been challenged. Some argue that implicit bias is not predicated on “any” associative process, but it is unreflective. These arguments rely, in part, on debiasing experiments. They proceed as follows. If implicit bias is associative and unreflective, then certain experimental manipulations cannot change implicitly biased behavior. However, these manipulations can change such behavior. So, implicit bias is not associative and unreflective. This paper finds philosophical and empirical problems with that argument. When the problems are solved, the conclusion is not quite right: implicit bias is not necessarily unreflective, but it seems to be associative. Further, the paper shows that even if legitimate non-associative interventions on implicit bias exist, then both the received view and its recent contender would be false. In their stead would be interactionism or minimalism about implicit bias.

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Acknowledgements

Thanks to Mike Bishop, Mike Dacey, Bryce Huebner, Luis Rosa, John Schwenkler, anonymous comments on earlier versions of this paper. Thanks to Istvan S. N. Berkeley, John Bickle, David Chalmers, Gabriel De Marco, Grace Helton, Zoe Jenkin, Eric Mandelbaum, Michele Merritt, Valentina Petrolina, Jake Quilty-Dunn, Susanna Siegel, and Evan Westra for shrewd comments on previous presentations of this paper. Thanks to Cameron Buckner, Bertram Gawronski, Angela Smith, and Ege Yumusak for helpful personal correspondence about this project more generally.

Funding

This research was supported, in part, by a graduate assistantship from the Graduate School at Florida State University, by travel funding from the Congress of Graduate Students at Florida State University, by travel funding from the Department of Philosophy at Florida State University, and by a Graduate Student Travel Award from the American Philosophical Association.

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Appendix: Additional debiasing experiments

Appendix: Additional debiasing experiments

The following list includes additional experiments that attempt to change implicit biases in behavior. These experiments involve instances of implicit bias than could not be discussed in sufficient detail in the main text, such as implicit biases about gender, sexual orientation, political orientation, consumer products, substance use, pseudowords, and more. Some of these experiments employ indirect measures of bias besides the IAT. The list was composed of recommendations from reviewers, various conference participants, and Google Scholar alerts for new publications by or related to authors already cited in the main text.

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Byrd, N. What we can (and can’t) infer about implicit bias from debiasing experiments. Synthese (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-019-02128-6

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Keywords

  • Debiasing
  • Dual process theory
  • Implicit bias
  • Implicit association test
  • Associationism
  • Reflectivism
  • Interventionism
  • Causation
  • Philosophy of mind
  • Philosophy of cognitive science
  • Philosophy of science