May 29, 2024

The importance of regulating implicit attitudes

Should doctors sit for a ‘bias-detection’ test?

Ever since Freud, scholars have been wondering about the effect of subconscious factors on our decision making. Much of our mental activity is said to occur outside our awareness and our control.

A recent article in the Journal of Medical Ethics develops this idea, arguing that ‘implicit attitudes’ have a major impact on the moral decision making of doctors and health workers. Author Chloe Fitzgerald claims that implicit attitudes — attitudes below the level of conscious awareness, not subject to direct conscious control — are responsible for much of the biased decision making about patients from disadvantaged socio-cultural backgrounds. Fitzgerald references a number of recent studies from the American Journal of Public Health that suggest pro-White bias amongst US doctors.

Fitzgerald proposes that health institutions establish programs for their staff to uncover and control their biases. She advocates that professionals sit a ‘bias-detection’ version of the Harvard Implicit Awareness Test. “These tests should not be considered tests of the genuineness of health professional’s ethical convictions, but rather tools for helping them to develop their consciences so that they can learn to regulate their implicit attitudes in addition to their explicit attitudes.”  

Earlier this year a study in the Journal of Academic Medicine reported an ‘anti-fat’ bias amongst American medical students. These students were more likely to disrespect obese patients, and assume they have an inability to follow treatment plans. 

Xavier Symons
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