Prejudice and Biases Social Psychology

Implicit Bias: Past Lessons and Future Directions

Are implicit bias interventions effective?

The unconscious, automatic components of prejudice have been investigated since the 1980s with the work of Patricia Devine. Her research showed that automatic activation of stereotypes and biased attitudes occur in both high- and low-prejudice persons. Social psychologists, Mahzarin Banaji and Tony Greenwald, followed up on her work, originally coining the term “implicit social cognitions”, referring to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.  These attitudes are considered “biases” because they tend to link certain social and cultural groups with stereotypes. Early theories presumed that implicit biases were immutable and fixed in cognition. However, later research has shown that certain techniques, such as mental imagery, may have the potential to change these unconscious attitudes and stereotypes.

Recent studies have measured the short-term outcomes of bias-reducing interventions; however, there has been little investigation into the long-term impacts of these interventions. The most compelling evidence into lasting effects comes from an experimental study of 18 universities across the U.S. Results of the study showed that bias-reducing interventions were immediately effective; yet, none of the interventions produced a significant effect after one to two days. Psychologists and sociologists have interpreted these findings as evidence that implicit bias is inflexible and difficult to change. 

Implicit bias: the bias-of-crowds model

The inflexibility of individuals’ implicit biases towards psychological and sociological interventions may reflect another phenomenon. The bias-of-crowds model states that implicit bias may be driven by the mental accessibility of certain concepts linked to social groups. The accessibility of attitudes and stereotypes can vary as a feature of the person (i.e. how often I choose to think something) and as an aspect of the environment (i.e. how often certain information is presented to me). However, recent evidence suggests that cognitive accessibility of stereotypes is more likely to vary based on the environment, rather than as a feature of the individual. In simple terms, this may mean that more frequent exposure to indirect or direct external prejudices (i.e. from family, friends, or education) will lead to a greater likelihood of our biases being reinforced.

Fundamentally, the average levels of implicit bias in a community may reflect the structural inequalities of that environment. On an individual level, unconscious biases and stereotypes are malleable and can fluctuate quite regularly. Individual’s implicit biases are likely to change from one point of time to another; however, the aggregate estimate of implicit bias in an individual is more greatly dependent on their social environment.  Structural inequalities and inequities may play a much greater role in determining long-term implicit biases.

So, how can we change implicit biases?

Based on evidence from the bias-of-crowds model, the most direct way of changing implicit bias is by changing the structural and systematic inequalities of an individual’s environment. Yet, this is a demanding task, as a change in structural inequities often requires new or amended policies. Instead of focusing on systematic change, I would like to suggest a few means of bias-reducing interventions that may be applicable to current situations.

  1. Individual habits- Consciously recognize your own stereotypes and find ways to replace them. Do not fit cultural groups into your predetermined stereotypes; rather, find logical and situational explanations for an individual’s behavior. Even further, it may be necessary to step out of your comfort zone and engage with individuals who belong to groups that are unlike your own. Data from the studies of Patricia Devine and Will Cox (University of Wisconsin-Madison) show that these interventions work to reduce implicit bias.
  2. Temporary interventions – These types of interventions may be applicable at the time of making a decision, such as hiring an applicant or
    admitting an individual to a university. For example, having admissions committees consciously counteract stereotypical beliefs before reviewing applications may work to reduce implicit bias.
  3. Long-term interventions – According to bias-of-crowds, changing social environments may produce long-term effects on individual implicit bias. For example, increasing faculty diversity at universities or companies may combat unconscious stereotypical attitudes in students or other faculty members. Even further, removing cues of past inequality, such as Confederate monuments, may act to reduce overall implicit bias. 

The two interventions that I have mentioned here are not foolproof. The correlation between implicit bias and social environment does not necessarily imply that unconscious biases and stereotypes are caused by structural inequality. More research needs to be done into the effect of the social environment on unconscious attitudes and biases before enacting long-term interventions. Yet, I would still like to emphasize one thing. Implicit bias is real. We all suffer from unconscious stereotypes and attitudes. Working to overcome these biases will move us closer towards diminishing racist attitudes that plague society. Reducing implicit bias is a minor step towards solving the major problem of racism in today’s America.


Project Implicit – Harvard University:

Kirwan Institute – OSU:

University Counseling Center – Notre Dame:

Unconscious Bias Resources – UCSF:

Find a Therapist:



The information and suggestions that I have provided here are in no means professional. This post has been reviewed by a faculty member of the University of Notre Dame Department of Psychology to verify accuracy.


Works Cited

Devine, P. G. (1989). Stereotypes and prejudice: Their automatic and controlled components. Journal of personality and social psychology56(1), 5.

Greenwald, A. G., & Banaji, M. R. (1995). Implicit social cognition: attitudes, self-esteem, and stereotypes. Psychological review102(1), 4.x

Nordell, S. (2017, July 10). Is This How Discrimination Ends? Retrieved August 23, 2020, from

Vuletich, H. A., & Payne, B. K. (2019). Stability and change in implicit bias. Psychological Science, 30(6), 854-862.

Police and Public Safety Psychology Social Psychology

Let’s Talk about Police Reform

Questionable Practice: Critical Incident Stress Debriefing

Last week, I was listening to a Joe Rogan podcast on my way home from the store. His guest was Dr. Nancy Panza, a clinical psychologist from Cal State Fullerton. Aside from lecturing undergrads, Dr. Panza’s research interests include criminal forensic assessment and police psychology. She has worked with police departments from New York City, Alabama, and California. As you can tell, she seems to be very qualified to be talking on the subject of police reform and mental health.

While on the podcast, Joe Rogan asked for her suggestions on psychological standardization procedures for police departments across the country. She advocated for two: pre-employment psychological testing and critical incident stress debriefing. In her words, “critical incident debriefings are a must and should always occur, and they should be mandatory because they take away the stigma”. For those of you who don’t know, critical incident stress debriefing (CISD) encourages individuals involved in a traumatic event to share their thoughts and feelings, making sense of this “critical incident”. In addition to the supportive aspect of this intervention, CISD also provides participants with information about necessary coping skills. This immediate intervention is hoped to delay or eliminate stress reactions from the incident.

Seems like a convenient and effective strategy, right? Not quite. There is little available evidence to prove the effectiveness of CISD. Although it may seem intuitive that CISD would reduce the prevalence of later psychological disorders, there is limited empirical data showing that it reduces later psychological symptoms. For example, a meta-analysis from 2002 showed that non-CISD interventions and no intervention improved symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, while CISD did not affect these symptoms.

Other studies have even shown that groups receiving CISD actually wound up worse than groups that received no treatment after a traumatic event.  In a follow-up to a randomized controlled trial, patients who had received psychological debriefing following a car accident had significantly worse long-term outcomes in terms of psychiatric symptoms, travel anxiety, pain, physical problems, and overall level of functioning. 

What would explain these findings? The basic argument is that CISD hinders the natural information processing following psychological trauma. Individuals are taught to rely on health professionals, rather than the support and comfort of close family and friends. Research has shown that most trauma survivors have symptoms relieved within three months of the initial incident, without any intervention. 

Years and years of research have shown evidence of the ineffectiveness of CISD, and yet, a clinical psychologist is still advocating for this practice to be implemented into police departments across the country. It is time that we begin to look at different interventions to limit negative mental health outcomes in the police. 


Future Practices: Pre-employment Screening & Critical Incident Training

Although there is little research on the effectiveness of police prescreening, many agencies use evidence-based personality assessment tools such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) and the Inwald Personality Inventory (IPI). Both the MMPI and IPI have shown evidence of predictive validity in the area of job performance among police officers. For example, high scores on the IPI Family Conflict scale were associated with poorer job performance at one year and conflicts with supervisors and peers. The IPI Guardedness domain, which measures the tendency to hide personal flaws, also predicted future job performance. 

Beyond pre-employment testing, more needs to be done in the area of training police officers for distressing situations. Police who received trauma resilience training as rookies show less negative mood, less heart rate reactivity, and better police performance compared to a control group. Trauma resilience training involves initial psychological sessions, consisting of relaxation and imagery training with mental skill rehearsal. In addition, the officers participate in critical incident stimulation, which involves confrontation by an armed suspect (actor). The relaxation and imagery training was found to improve the performance of adaptive police behaviors during the critical incident stimulation, such as safety and control of the bystanders. 

Both pre-employment psychological screening and trauma resilience training are necessary to limit negative mental health outcomes among police officers. These evidence-based techniques have been shown to predict job performance, and in some instances, mitigate unfavorable consequences of critical situations. Critical incident stress debriefing has unreliable potential and should not be included in the interventions that police departments utilize.


Police Psychology Resources (from APA website)

  • Blau, T.H. (1994). Psychological Services for Law Enforcement. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Kirschman, E. (1997). I Love a Cop: What Police Families Need to Know. New York: Guilford Press.
  • Kurke, M.I., & Scrivner, E.M. (Eds.). (1995). Police Psychology into the 21st Century. Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Visit for resources for families of police officers.
  • For more information on the Police Psychological Services Section of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, visit or contact Kim Kohlhepp at (800) 843-4227, ext. 237.
  • APA’s Div. 18 (Psychologists in Public Service) includes a section on Police and Public Safety. 
  • The National Institute of Justice’s Corrections and Law Enforcement Family Support Program’s Web site is


The information and suggestions that I have provided here is in no means professional. This post has been reviewed by a faculty member of the University of Notre Dame Department of Psychology to verify accuracy.

Works Cited

Arnetz, B. B., Nevedal, D. C., Lumley, M. A., Backman, L., & Lublin, A. (2009). Trauma resilience training for police: Psychophysiological and performance effects. Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, 24, 1– 9. doi:10.1007/s11896‐008‐9030‐y

Detrick, P. and Chibnall, J. T. 2002. Prediction of police officer performance with the Inwald Personality Inventory. Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, 17: 9–17.

Hobbs, M., & Adshead, G., (1997). Preventative psychological intervention for road crash survivors. In M. Mitchell (Ed). The aftermath of road accidents: Psychosocial, social, and legal consequences of an everyday trauma (pp. 159-171). London: Routledge

McCanlies, E. C., Mnatsakanova, A., Andrew, M. E., Burchfiel, C. M., & Violanti, J. M. (2014). Positive psychological factors are associated with lower PTSD symptoms among police officers: post Hurricane Katrina. Stress and health : journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress, 30(5), 405–415.

Michael S. Rogers, Dale E. McNiel and Renée L. Binder. (2019) Effectiveness of Police Crisis Intervention Training Programs. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law Online September 2019, JAAPL.003863-19; DOI:

Rose, S., & Bisson, J. (1998). Brief early psychological interventions following trauma: A systematic review of the literature. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 11, 697–710.

Scogin, F., Schumacher, J., Gardner, J., & Chaplin, W. (1995). Predictive validity of psychological testing in law enforcement settings. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 26(1), 68–71.

van Emmerik AAP, Kamphuis JH, Hulsbosch AM, Emmelkamp PMG. Single session debriefing after psychological trauma: a meta-analysis. Lancet 2002; 360: 766.