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UBC Theses and Dissertations

What’s the harm? : perceptions and experiences of implicit and intentional bias Bareket-Shavit, Carmelle


What does it feel like to be on the receiving end of a person’s implicit or intentional bias? There is an ongoing debate in academic and non-academic circles about the harm bias does. One view is that because implicit bias is perceived as less blameworthy (Daumeyer et al., 2019), it might also be experienced as less harmful. However, another view is that because impact is more critical than intention (Williams, 2020), implicit bias that has the same impact might hurt the same as (or even more than) intentional bias. Setting aside the question of whether implicit behavior is less wrong, I ask what is the experience of psychological harm of those with marginalized identities targeted by such behaviors? In a programmatic series of experiments, I ask whether implicit bias and intentional bias are experienced as similarly or differentially harmful. I use a theoretically derived approach to develop tightly controlled vignettes that manipulate two types of unbiased, two types of implicitly biased, and two types of intentionally biased behavior. I validate these scenarios for testing perceptions of stereotyping across five different social identity groups (Study 1, N = 205). I then ask whether vignettes of implicit and intentional gender bias are perceived as differentially harmful by women (Study 2, N = 302). Finally, I sought to replicate my findings by having people recall their experience of harm from lived experiences of implicit and intentional bias (Study 3, N = 138). Across these studies, both implicit and intentional bias (with equal impact) were more harmful than unbiased behavior (Study 2 - 3). When hypothetical instances of bias were intentional (vs. implicit), women anticipated more pain but similar levels of exclusion (Study 2). When recalling instances (controlling for impact), intentional bias was again experienced as more painful but similarly exclusionary as implicit bias (Study 3). Together, this research reveals that both forms of bias are perceived and experienced as harmful, but implicit bias was experienced as somewhat less painful than intentional bias. By understanding the consequences for the way bias unfolds, we may better mitigate the psychological harm from instances of bias.

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