Why Implicit Bias Training Fails

An officer approaches four young black men standing on a street corner in dim lighting. One of the black men thinks, “This officer is going to ask for my ID” and reaches towards his back pocket for his wallet. The officer perceives the young man is reaching for a gun. 

Perceptions and actions are initiated in the unconscious/subconscious brain, or what we refer to as the backchannel. The backchannel has been wired over millions of years to form associations between concepts, objects, and events. Most of these associations are based on a lifetime of interactions with family, friends, colleagues, and others in a socio-cultural context that includes second-order influencers, like television shows, movies, books, music, social media, etc. These types of associations become a person’s lived experiences, informing how they interpret and react to situations.

The backchannel uses these lived experiences to guide how a person interacts with their world on a moment-by-moment basis. This arrangement allows the backchannel to make quick assessments and snap judgments outside of conscious awareness to meet species-specific goals, like reproduction and survival. 

In the example above, the officer’s backchannel had learned to associate “young black men” with “danger” via socio-cultural influencers. This association was even stronger given the context of a dimly lit street corner. But here is an important distinction: The officer did not consciously make that connection; the officer’s lifetime of influencers wired the backchannel to automatically make that connection and to put the officer on high alert. The officer’s backchannel presumed threat, so the officer perceived the young black man as reaching for a gun.

Let’s slightly modify this example: The officer approaches four young white men standing on a dimly lit street corner. One of the white men thinks, “This officer is going to ask for my ID” and reaches for his wallet. The officer perceives the young white man is reaching for his wallet.

In this modified example, the officer’s backchannel makes no presumptions of threat when the man reaches for his wallet because associating “young white men” with “danger” was not wired into the officer’s backchannel in the first place.

 

That is implicit bias.

Two different perceptions – of reaching for a gun versus reaching for a wallet – for this nearly identical event.

In both of these examples, the officer’s backchannel made quick assessments and snap judgements based on associations that had been built over a lifetime of lived experiences and influences. In the first example, the backchannel associated “black” with “threat” and “threat” with “gun” in a flash. But since there was no association between “white” and “threat” in the officer’s backchannel, there was no need to presume “gun” in the modified example.

The big picture outcome of these backchannel associations is that the officer perceives and acts differently towards different types of people. Without a real understanding of the backchannel and how it works, “officer safety” may be the reason erroneously given for treating the men in the two examples differently. The real culprit? The backchannel with its implicit biases.

 

Here is why implicit bias training fails: Implicit bias training does not change a person’s behavior.

And how could it? You cannot override a lifetime of backchannel wiring with a four- or eight-hour class. And frankly, why would you want to? Trial and error, and more trial and error, over millions and millions of years built the backchannel system into what it is today. If we could easily change this, we would just muck it up.

Implicit bias training can change a person’s knowledge-level and understanding of the issues and can change a person’s attitudes and motivation towards race, which are great outcomes. But the scientific literature overwhelmingly shows there are no significant changes in officers’ repeated behaviors attributable to implicit bias training.

In other words, implicit bias training would not have changed the officer’s original perception of the young black man reaching for a gun. And that is a problem.

 

Cognitive Command Training addresses the issue of implicit bias through backchannel training.

The key to changing officer behavior is to give the backchannel a structured system that makes officer safety concepts easy to associate with the job of policing. Cognitive Command Training does this over time by having officers engage in short, daily and weekly micro-trainings. These micro-trainings were developed by neuroscientists specifically for the purpose of wiring the backchannel to recognize biased behaviors, among other things. It is this science of automatic thinking that Cognitive Command Training harnesses to guide policing behaviors.

Multiple research studies have shown Cognitive Command Training significantly reduces biased behaviors in both academy students and veteran officers. Bottomline: When an officer has good positioning, is near or behind cover, has an escape route planned, and is mindfully connected to that moment in time, he/she makes more appropriate decisions and treats people more fairly.

To the communities that law enforcement serves, that’s a success!

Cognitive Command Group, LLC
3510 N. Ridge Road, Suite
300 Wichita, KS 67205

(888) 556-0250
info@c2cexpert.com

   

Cognitive Command Group, LLC
3510 N. Ridge Road, Suite
300 Wichita, KS 67205

(888) 556-0250
info@c2cexpert.com

   

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