Last updated March 18, 2019.


Conscious experience tells a convincing story about what we like or dislike, but often this story is disconnected from how we act. For example, a judge may explicitly value racial equality but give a Black offender a harsher sentence than a similar White offender for the same crime. This disconnect between thought and action can be captured in measures of implicit biases, which assess automatically activated associations within the mind. We study how to address implicit biases to better align behavior with explicit values.

Malleability of Implicit Bias

In a meta-analysis with 494 experiments (Forscher*, Lai*, et al., in press), we compared fourteen approaches to implicit bias change. We have also looked at specific mechanisms for change such as perspective-taking, multicultural ideology, and mere exposure. Some recent work has been studying how implicit associations about truth and falsity operate. We are finding evidence of “truthiness”: Implicit associations about events track real-world events, but also what people want to be true.

Interventions to Reduce Implicit Bias

To understand the forces that are most influential for changing implicit associations, we must also learn which specific strategies are most effective. To accomplish this, we organized a research contest to test many interventions simultaneously  (Lai et al., 2014). Nine of the eighteen interventions we tested were effective at reducing implicit racial prejudice immediately.

However, temporary malleability of implicit associations does not guarantee long-term change. We sought to see if effective interventions from the research contest were effective in the long-term (Lai et al., 2016).  We tested the nine successful interventions  from the research contest again, and found that none continued to have an effect after a day.  In ongoing research, we are examining whether new approaches (e.g., more intensive interventions, targeting different mechanisms) will reduce implicit bias in the long-term.

Behavioral Interventions to Reduce Bias

Changing implicit bias is often not the best approach for mitigating the effects of bias on behavior. In ongoing research, we are studying interventions focused on reducing behavior related to implicit and explicit bias. This includes work on implicit bias-oriented diversity training, training programs on law enforcement, and interventions to reduce discrimination by targeting noisiness in decision-making (Axt & Lai, 2019).

Prejudice, Stereotyping, and Discrimination, Broadly

Ongoing work is examining prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination across a variety of domains. This works includes the study of caste prejudice in India, social categorization of bisexual people, mental representations of who a “racist” is, and biases in how people choose to share politically-charged information.

* Co-lead-authors.