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Anti-bias Trainings Not Effective for Many

20-Jul-2015 Source Newsroom: University of Vermont
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Citations Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
In the wake of deadly incidents involving white police officers and African American males in cities across the country, many police departments and municipalities have committed to anti-bias trainings to reduce the chances of similar incidents happening in the future.

But according to a study just published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, the trainings probably won’t be as effective as organizers hope.
The research finds that only those whites who are aware of their racial biases will internalize negative feedback about their racial preferences and take steps to correct their behavior. For the rest, the training is likely to roll off their backs.
Most white Americans have subtle or even unconscious racial biases, said Sylvia Perry, assistant professor in the Department of Psychological Science at the University of Vermont and the lead author of the study. “Our society is filled with negative stereotypes associated with blacks, and whites’ attitudes and behaviors can’t help but be affected, although often in ways they’re not clearly aware of,” she said.

“The first step towards reducing these biases and correcting behavior is internalizing the fact that you may have them,” she said.

The study, of 902 white Americans, employed a variety of established psychological tests to assess racial attitudes and a new assessment that gauged subjects’ “bias awareness,” a trait never before defined and researched. The bias awareness test asked subjects to score a series of statements such as, “When talking to Black people, I sometimes worry that I am unintentionally acting in a prejudiced way” designed to uncover awareness of subtle bias.
Those who scored high in bias awareness were more able to internalize negative feedback about their racial attitudes, telling researchers they felt badly when given false feedback that they had a strong preference for whites over blacks, and to take positive corrective steps, volunteering in greater numbers for a diversity initiative the researchers invented, than those with low bias awareness, who reacted defensively to negative feedback and were unwilling to change their behavior.

Both results occurred regardless of how subjects scored on other tests they were given that measured their level of prejudice or their motivation to be non-prejudiced.

The key factor in developing what the study calls “concerned awareness” of racial bias is acceptance, Perry said. “If you accept these things in yourself, you’re on the road to making things better.”

While the research has broad implications, it is especially relevant in the case of anti-bias training.

Training that takes into account individuals’ levels of bias awareness, alone or in combination with the degree of their prejudice and motivation to reduce prejudice, will result in more effective and targeted anti-bias interventions and programs, the study states.

According to the paper, “Many anti-bias education programs have the goal of increasing people’s awareness of their personal bias as a key component of their approach. Whether people are already receptive to such information (i.e., are high in Bias Awareness) may influence whether they will be receptive and responsive to the training or instead, demonstrate backlash.”

“Not everyone can be confronted with feedback about their bias and then just walk away and do better,” Perry said. “Some people might need to talk it through and see what it means personally for them. Otherwise the process can backfire.”
The paper’s coauthors include Mary Murphy, assistant professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Indiana University, and John Dovidio, professor in the Department of Psychology at Yale University.

 

 



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