WIPS - Christiane Merritt, Washington University in St. Louis

Title: "Is Implicit Bias a Cognitive Kind?"

Abstract: Implicit bias is invoked to explain a wide variety of phenomena. At the same time, there is very little agreement among either psychologists or philosophers about (1) what exactly implicit bias is, or what sorts of processes, structures or mechanisms are responsible for instances of implicit bias. Not unrelatedly, there is very little agreement about (2) what implicit bias could possibly explain, either “in here” within an individual’s psychology or “out there” in the world of racial, sexual, and economic inequalities (among many others). 

The broader project evaluates evidence from psychology and neuroscience, but this talk will focus on question (1) by revisiting the history of the cognitive and social psychological tests and theories that have led to current tests like the IAT, AMP and GNAT. I argue that despite the widespread assumption that implicit bias is a cognitive kind with common (or at least relevantly similar) mechanisms underlying it, we currently have little evidence for a sufficiently unified psychological or neurological basis for ‘implicit bias’  to count as a cognitive kind. This is important not only for psychological classification but also for debates about the ethical implications of implicit bias and attempts to intervene on implicit bias.