Consequences of Attributing Discrimination to Implicit vs. Explicit Bias

Daumeyer, Natalie M.; Onyeador, Ivuoma N.; Brown, Xanni; Richeson, Jennifer A.
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology

Implicit bias has garnered considerable public attention, with a number of behaviors (e.g., police shootings) attributed to it. Here, we present the results of 4 studies and an internal meta-analysis that examine how people reason about discrimination based on whether it was attributed to the implicit or explicit attitudes of the perpetrators. Participants' perceptions of perpetrator accountability, support for punishment, level of concern about the bias, and support for various efforts to reduce it (e.g., education) were assessed. Taken together, the results suggest that perpetrators of discrimination are held less accountable and often seen as less worthy of punishment when their behavior is attributed to implicit rather than to explicit bias. Moreover, at least under some circumstances, people express less concern about, and are less likely to support efforts to combat, implicit compared with explicit bias. Implications for efforts to communicate the science of implicit bias without undermining accountability for the discrimination it engenders are discussed.