New Study Led by University of Vermont Scholar Sheds Light on “Bias Awareness”

sylvia_perry_secondary1A new study led by Sylvia Perry, an assistant professor of psychological science at the University of Vermont, finds that Whites who are aware of their biases are better equipped to deal with society’s racial challenges than Whites who believe they are racially colorblind.

Dr. Perry gave psychological assessment tests to more than 900 White subjects to determine their racial attitudes. She also developed a new test to determine what she calls “bias awareness.” The bias awareness tests included questions such as: “When talking to Black people, I sometimes worry that I am unintentionally acting in a prejudiced way.”

The results showed that Whites who were more aware of their racial biases were more likely to take corrective action when they were told they had been offensive. But Whites with low bias awareness were more defensive when told they had been offensive and were less willing to change their behaviors.

Dr. Perry stated that “the first step toward reducing subtle biases and correcting behavior that is sometime unintentionally hurtful, is personal awareness. If you accept these things in yourself, you’re on the road to making things better.”

According to Dr. Perry, her results show that “one-size-fits-all” anti-bias training may not be effective. “Not everyone can be confronted with feedback about their bias and then just walk away and do better,” she notes. “Some people might need to talk it through and see that it means personally for them. Otherwise there could be a backlash.”

Dr. Perry is a graduate of the University of North Texas. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The article, “Modern Prejudice: Subtle, but Unconscious? The Role of Bias Awareness in Whites’ Perceptions of Personal and Others’ Biases,” was published on the website of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. It may be accessed here.

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