How humans repress prejudices

May 17, 2018, Ruhr-Universitaet-Bochum
Philosopher Beate Krickel has developed a new model of unconscious bias using psychoanalytic theory. Credit: RUB, Kramer

Bochum-based philosopher Dr. Beate Krickel has used psychoanalysis to investigate why people are often not aware of their prejudices. In her accounts, she has been elaborating how prejudices can become unconscious. As researcher at the Institute of Philosophy II at Ruhr-Universität Bochum, she outlines her theory in the journal Philosophical Psychology from May 15, 2018.

A hypothetical example: A white professor describes himself as having a liberal, tolerant worldview. He confirms that it is nonsense and scientifically insupportable to assume that people with different ethnic background have different levels of intelligence. However, the convictions he professes are ostensibly contradicted by his behaviour—he acts, for example, surprised, when a person of colour asks an intelligent question in his seminar. Moreover, his intuitive impression is that his white students look smarter.

Researchers refer to cases in which the professed convictions deviate from intuitive behaviour as implicit . This kind of bias can be identified using certain psychological tests.

"There's a fierce debate going on in the fields of social psychology and philosophy on whether the prejudices measured with such tests are unconscious or not," says the researcher. The fact that people voice liberal and tolerant convictions in spite of their implicit bias points to unconscious . However, empirical studies in the past have shown that test participants have the ability to notice their implicit bias under specific conditions. "Interestingly enough, the participants are generally surprised or even shocked once they realise their own implicit bias," says Krickel.

In order to explain these data, the researcher used psychoanalysis. More specifically, she argues that a philosophically informed notion of Freudian repression constitutes a feasible explanation of the apparently contradictory data.

According to Krickel's analysis, the professor in the hypothetical example represses the emotions that are triggered by his negative associations because they do not match his self-image. Consequently, he is not aware of his implicit bias. He does, however, have the ability to detect these emotions if the circumstances are right. "The function of philosophy is, first and foremost, to provide an in-depth analysis of what repression actually is," says Krickel. "Based on philosophical theories of consciousness, a feasible model emerges when repression is understood to be an attentional shift that becomes habituated over the years."

Explore further: Implicit race bias increases the differences in the neural representations of black and white faces

More information: Beate Krickel, Are the states underlying implicit biases unconscious? – A Neo-Freudian answer, Philosophical Psychology (2018). DOI: 10.1080/09515089.2018.1470323

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Matter waves and quantum splinters

March 25, 2019

Physicists in the United States, Austria and Brazil have shown that shaking ultracold Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs) can cause them to either divide into uniform segments or shatter into unpredictable splinters, depending ...

How tree diversity regulates invading forest pests

March 25, 2019

A national-scale study of U.S. forests found strong relationships between the diversity of native tree species and the number of nonnative pests that pose economic and ecological threats to the nation's forests.

Study suggests trees are crucial to the future of our cities

March 25, 2019

The shade of a single tree can provide welcome relief from the hot summer sun. But when that single tree is part of a small forest, it creates a profound cooling effect. According to a study published today in the Proceedings ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet May 17, 2018
A deep need exists to under prejudice and its relationship with implicit bias. Using psychoanalysis is misguided--no better than the use of tarot decks, Ouija boards or astrology.
not rated yet May 17, 2018
American psychology does not deal with the subconscious, even though it shows in experiments. Like Carl Jung said 'the subconscious is as real as the liver and is a comparable discovery'. But even when I worked with a professor who run experiments that confirmed the existance of the underlying layer of consciusness, he was resistant to give a name to the structure that was influencing decisions in the experiments. In America, the anti intellectualism is so strong, also atheism and hatred are very prevalent, so it makes very difficult to carry rational developments of unsuspected phenomena. The classic American position is to deny its ontological status, usually with a large emotional outburst.

It is like the discussion of if the availability of weapons affects the likehood of violence. In most countries, that would not be an issue, but in America, with the almost no ethics, the logical conversation about weapons is impossible. The same with the integration of subconscious processes.
not rated yet May 18, 2018
Today's liberalism is a huge prejudice.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.