Yesterday we were fortunate to have Carol Izumi (Hastings) visit the University of Oregon to talk about implicit bias and debiasing techniques. Carol spoke to a packed room and we were joined via livestream by the University of Missouri. Carol was energetic and funny, connecting with the students not only through her impressive command of the literature but also her humane, thoughtful, personal way of thinking and talking about the issues.

Carol’s talk was one of the most anticipated events of the Oregon ADR Center’s “year of implicit bias” (we have another big event coming up next April — more on that in another post). She laid out the basics of implicit bias and then explained the major strategies for debiasing, or interrupting unconscious bias. These strategies are intention, attention, and effort. Each of these strategies has subparts (e.g., intention breaks down into awareness, motivation, and action plans; attention into mindfulness and salience; and effort into social contact, counter-stereotypical exemplars, perspective-taking, and empathy).

I want to highlight one concept that she brought up during this rich discussion, that of “discrepancy experiences.”

A discrepancy experience is when you notice that you are having an automatic reaction that may be rooted in implicit bias. For example, imagine that you see a dark-skinned man walking down the street toward you and you unconsciously reach for your purse or think about crossing to the other side. If you notice yourself reacting this way, you may realize that your reaction may not be consonant (i.e., there is a discrepancy) with (1) reality or (2) your own commitment to being egalitarian and unbiased. In other words, your reaction might be the manifestation of unconscious stereotyping, an implicit bias. Once you’ve recognized this, you then have an opportunity to rethink why you are reacting the way you are. Maybe you actually don’t think there is a danger, when thinking more deliberately about it, so you stop clutching your purse or you stay on the same side of the street. (Of course, maybe you still cross the street — some of us, depending on the time of day and the situation, avoid any man on the street — but at least you have made this decision with an awareness of your reasons, instead of just acting out an implicit bias that may have no basis in anything in the present moment).

Discrepancy experiences are not limited to race, of course. We may have a discrepancy experience whenever we have an unconscious response to a person and stop to think about why that might be so. It is a kind of mindfulness.

Carol encourages her students to talk openly about their discrepancy experiences when they debrief or discuss in class, and in doing so they develop better awareness of their own biases. Additionally, talking about discrepancy experiences normalizes the fact that we all have biases, which makes everyone less defensive and resistant to the topic. After all, in a field that prioritizes neutrality, figuring out how to minimize the impact of implicit bias should be of paramount importance.

More coming soon on our next implicit bias event.

Jennifer Reynolds is an Assistant Professor at the University of Oregon Law and the Faculty Director of the ADR Center. Teaching civil procedure, conflicts of law, negotiation, and mediation, her research interests include dispute systems design, problem-solving in multiparty scenarios, judicial attitudes toward ADR, and cultural influences and implications of alternative processes. She is also a contributor to ADR Prof Blog.