Yale Center for Teaching and Learning

Awareness of Implicit Biases

Implicit bias refers to unconscious attitudes, reactions, stereotypes, and categories that affect behavior and understanding. In higher education, implicit bias often refers to unconscious racial or socioeconomic bias towards students, which can be as frequent as explicit bias (Boysen, et. al 2009). Instructors can hold assumptions about students’ learning behaviors and their capability for academic success which are tied to students’ identities and/or backgrounds, and these assumptions can impede student growth (Staats, et. al, 2017). Instructors can consider a variety of strategies and benefits for revealing and addressing implicit bias, both in themselves and their students.

Examples

  • Instructors may assume that certain students know to seek help when they are struggling, although students at higher risk for struggling academically are often less likely to seek help and support.  
  • Instructors may assume that students from certain backgrounds or social groups have differing intellectual abilities and/or ambitions. For example, an instructor might assume that a student from a certain background will be satisfied with lower achievement levels. 
  • Instructors may expect students who speak with certain accents to be poor writers.
  • Students with substandard writing abilities may be stereotyped as lacking intellectual ability. 
  • Instructors might treat students with physical disabilities as if they may also have mental disabilities, and thus require more attention.
  • Students who are affiliated with a particular identity group may be treated as experts on issues related to that group.

  • Instructors may assume that students will best relate to the historical, contemporary, or fictional character who resembles them demographically.
  • Students of certain groups may be expected to have certain participation styles (quiet, argumentative, agenda-oriented).

Recommendations

  • Self-Assess Implicit Biases - Instructors can review the examples above and self-reflect on their own biases. Reflective teaching offers formal and informal strategies for considering one’s own pedagogical habits. Instructors may also take an online self-assessment to identify their biases through Project Implicit from Harvard University. 
  • Solicit Feedback from Outside Observers -  Instructors can set up their own teaching inventory or observation protocol with a colleague or peer, or request a CTL staff member to visit their classroom, observe their student-teacher interactions, and provide feedback.

Additional Resources

Creating Inclusive College Classrooms - UMichigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching

Steele CM. (2010). Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do. WW Norton & Co., Inc.

Strategies and Resources About Implicit Bias - Brown Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning

References

Boysen GA and Vogel DL. (2009). Bias in the Classroom: Types, Frequencies, and Responses. Teaching of Psychology, 36(1): 12-17. 

Staats Cheryl et al. (2017). State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review 2017. Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity.