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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Mikayla Apodaca

An Ethical Guide to Your Implicit Bias

An Ethical Guide to Your Implicit Bias

Mikayla Apodaca ’23

Mikayla Apodaca ’23 is a psychology and political science double major and a 2021-22 Hackworth Fellow at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Views are her own.


Throughout my Junior year, I created an ethical guide to your implicit bias for my Hackworth project. Before I explain my specific project let’s talk about what implicit bias is. Implicit biases are the attitudes we have toward a specific group of people. These thoughts are often associated with stereotypes that we have gained through external forces like tv, radio, friends, family, etc throughout our life. Often these stereotypes can be harmful. Essentially implicit bias is the first automatic thought that pops into your head without your conscious control. Implicit bias is a psychological theory that is supported by countless studies. So, why should you understand what implicit bias is? 

Understanding implicit bias is critical to leadership and ethics because we must understand we all have implicit biases, no matter your race, sexual orientation, party orientation, etc. Yet, what’s important to know is that these initial thoughts do not make us racist, homophobic, and so on. It just means we are human. You are not at fault for your first thought. What matters is how we react to this initial thought. Becoming aware of our implicit biases is the first step to combating them. Without being aware of biases you can make quick decisions and judgments that aren’t accurate or ethical. 

I created a guide to our implicit biases to help people navigate a topic that can be uncomfortable. Though it is uncomfortable I feel it is a worthwhile concept to understand about oneself. In my 3-page guide, I include a section on how to combat implicit bias, then a section on political polarization in the United States and its relationship with implicit bias. Finally, some psychological facts to help you understand your brain a little bit better.

 An Ethical Guide to Your Implicit Bias

As a political science and psychology major, I wondered what role psychology played in the widening polarization in our country and my research led me to implicit Bias. In a New York Times article entitled, “America Has Split, and It’s Now in ‘Very Dangerous Territory’ Nolan McCarty a political scientist at Princeton, believes that the pandemic has not brought the country together but created and exacerbated divisions. The United States is more divided than ever and is a peculiar case because we are one of the only long-established and first-world democracies that have such high levels of polarization. After my research, I believe understanding our implicit biases can help us to have an open mind and be more open to compromise and understanding. The lack of effort to try to understand one another is a key component of our country's deepening polarization.  

In another article that I drew from entitled “How to Think About Implicit Bias” by Keith Payne and Laura Niemi, the authors discuss how “Implicit bias has not been received well by the left and right parties. The right feels that it is another tool for progressives to push a politically correct agenda, while the left views implicit bias as taking away the blame from people who might be termed, bigots or racists.” Each of these views can discredit implicit bias in some shape or form. But,  It's important to acknowledge that every person has an implicit bias, no matter what their political affiliation is. Each of us can take an active role in fighting against them 

The first step to fighting against our implicit biases is first becoming aware of them. Second, understand that you're not responsible for your first thought just next to your actions. and finally actively fighting against implicit bias. You can combat your implicit bias by making yourself uncomfortable. Surround yourself with images, movies, music, and ideas that challenge stereotypes. Find others who can hold you accountable. When you are in the process of making an important decision, voting on a policy, writing a thought-provoking paper, or creating a research question, ask yourself if you are thinking intentionally to combat implicit biases and harmful stereotypes that may plague you and your peers? My hope is through understanding implicit biases and how to combat them the world and specifically, our country can have a more open mind.

View Mikayla's project presentation

About Mikayla Apodaca

"Mikayla Apodaca '23 is a psychology and political science double major, born and raised in Thornton, Colorado. During her studies at Santa Clara University, she has become especially interested in the ethical implications that are associated with political partisanship. She would like to explore these implications with a special focus on the psychological perspective. She hopes to research this specific area in her future career because she feels that it is a pressing matter for our county and its citizens.

She is currently the Neighborhood Relations Chair for the Associated Student Government at Santa Clara. She also works in the Learning and Memory Lab for the psychology department. She is looking forward to working on the ethics and campus life team to explore how these implications affect Santa Clara students and to work to find possible solutions to improve our student life.

May 14, 2021

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