The Department of Justice recently called for its employees, including lawyers, to receive training to combat unconscious bias.* That directive for nearly 28,000 people stated in part “Given that the research is clear that most people experience some degree of unconscious bias, and that the effects of that bias can be countered by acknowledging its existence, and utilizing response strategies . . . . ”

Concern about it, and implicit bias training has become common in medical, education, and many other contexts, including the legal profession. For example, the American Bar Association has instituted the Implicit Bias Initiative here. The homepage describes it as “a landmark website offering critical information and resources for ABA members and other stakeholders.” This large national bar association, and many state bar associations see award-winning Missouri Bar program  (Courageous Collaboration ) put much emphasis on a measure of implicit bias, the Implicit Association Test [IAT]. Education and training programs often feature taking the IAT as a key element or core activity. New research suggests that the designers, administrators, and deliverers of those programs have and should offer a new intervention.

Despite much progress in understanding and measuring the psychological phenomenon of unconscious bias, the best way to tame stereotypic responses and combat the discriminatory outcomes stemming from implicit bias, dubbed “the monster” by an early researcher, has remained an open question.

The authors of this post’s featured article devised a novel research strategy, and tackled that question. This post summarizes their results, and suggests that the legal profession consider a new kind of anti-bias intervention – feelings of guilt and disappointment with the self – to produce meaningful change when used in concert with other empirically supported strategies. This study’s findings show that a critical relationship exists between negative self-directed affect and reduced stereotype application. This research also shows that a common strategy advocated by many, including legal organizations, to combat implicit bias and its negative outcomes – concentrated cognitive retraining – does not result in reduced stereotype application. So, in this important consideration, feelings of guilt and self-disappointment provide something new and effective – another arrow for the quiver – in the battle to combat implicit bias.

Who Should Read This Post and Why. Judges, lawyers, legal academics and law students, leaders of legal services organizations and court systems, legal diversity and inclusion experts or practitioners, and bar association administrators and leaders should benefit from reading this post, the featured article, and also considering the additional resources.

Implicit racial bias and the discriminatory outcomes produced by stereotypic attitudes and responses has infiltrated and infects the legal decision-making process. Those attitudes and outcomes have impacted the legal profession, its providers, consumers of legal services, and the communities served by local, state, and federal justice systems suffer harm, too. Bar associations, judges, lawyers, and others seeking to mitigate the results of implicit racial bias in the legal profession and our system of justice have discussed the issues, and instituted programs which utilize various methods, including confrontation, role model exposure, and cognitive retraining.

Now, all members of the legal profession and its leaders have reason to pause. They should want to refresh, consider something new, and incorporate into the discussion the potential to incorporate motivated self-regulation interventions suggested by the cutting edge research discussed in this post. Because empirically supported mutli-pronged intervention strategies presented over a long-term approach put those concerned with it in the best position to produce meaningful change, leaders and change agents will benefit from reading this post.

What’s In This Post? This post summarizes a three experiment study using diverse non-student samples of workers. The results showed that counter-stereotype training did not reduce application of negative stereotypes to Blacks even when that training showed reduced stereotyping on the IAT. Also, the results provide the first evidence that negative self-directed affect, i.e. guilt and disappointment, has an association with reduced stereotype application.

Identification of the purpose of this research study followed by short discussions of implicit bias and the Implicit Association Test [IAT], stereotype activation and application, and negative self-directed affect, gleaned by consideration of the featured article and the additional references cited as additional resources precede the summary of the study and discussion of its results.

The final parts of the post discuss the study’s results, and the implications of the first-of-its kind evidence provided by this research for the legal profession.

Purpose of Research: Provide a Clearer Pathway. Change advocates frequently suggest that people should receive cognitive retraining to combat unconscious racial bias. Little dispute exists that implicit racial prejudice exists in many domains and that unconscious application of racial stereotypes results in important interpersonal behaviors, many of which have negative discriminatory outcomes. But, the authors noted that “the best way to combat these biases and their outcomes is less clear.”

Two different approaches can possibly reduce the discriminatory outcomes resulting from the operation of implicit biases: cognitive retraining (repeatedly practicing counterstereotypes) and motivated self-regulation (heightened negative self-directed affect resulting from increased awareness of increased tendencies to respond in biased ways which conflict with personal standards). The research tested the viability of each approach in reducing not only stereotypic associations, but also reducing stereotypic application.

Research Background: Implicit Bias and the Implicit Association Test [IAT]. Feeling favorable or unfavorable toward a person or thing prior to or not based on actual experience defines prejudice. We all have such social preferences. Some operate within our conscious awareness and control. Others operate outside our conscious awareness and control. Some of these social preferences relate to groups of people or members of those groups. Such preferences, i.e. evaluations of groups or others in those groups, may favor or disfavor others or members of other groups. When these evaluations of others based on race, ethnicity, gender, social class, or other categories, do not occur intentionally, and instead operate outside our conscious awareness, implicit prejudice describes this feeling.

The evaluations of implicit prejudice, distinct but related to explicit prejudice, can occur regarding various social categories, such as age, disability, sexual orientation, and social pressure can explain in part those variations. Experience can play a part in forming implicit and explicit social prejudices. These two types of biases operate by distinct psychological mechanisms. Consequently, distinct mechanisms for changing those biases exist. For changing implicit biases, change methods and processes can target the underlying associations or one’s motivations to act egalitarian.

The Implicit Association Test [IAT] measures implicit attitudes. The IAT assesses the strength of association between two concepts. Specifically, it measures socially significant automatic evaluative associations. The length of time taken to categorize concepts, e.g. Black+positive/White +negative, defined as a response latency period during a series of sequentially presented computerized categorization tasks, determines the strength of these automatic associations, also called implicit attitudes. The national and state bar association links above provide information gateways to access much information about the IAT

Research Background: Stereotype Activation & Stereotype Application and Internal & External Motivation. Certain knowledge structures which can give rise to the application of stereotypes exist in our minds. But, a difference exists between having such knowledge structures and putting them to use in making judgments about identifying or categorizing people in terms of membership in a certain category. This difference does not necessarily dictate results, but plays an important role in the outcomes associated with stereotypes associated with automatic implicit bias processes and the more controlled processes of explicit bias.

Stereotype activation concerns the extent to which a stereotype is accessible in one’s mind. Stereotype application occurs when one uses a stereotype to judge a member of a stereotyped group. The extent of stereotype activation cannot, however, be inferred from stereotype application. Why?

People do not always apply the stereotypes available in their minds. People do not always apply their activated stereotypes. About this point, the authors of the 2003 review article§ noted below stated “For example, perceivers who encounter an Asian American woman may activate the Asian American stereotype, thereby experiencing heightened accessibility of stereotypic traits such as shy and intelligent, but they may refrain from applying this activated stereotype to this individual, that is, they may not judge her as especially shy or intelligent. People may avoid applying an activated stereotype because they are motivated to avoid prejudice.”

Internal and external motives can play powerful roles in helping people inhibit stereotype activation or suppress the application of activated stereotypes. Internally driven desires to avoid prejudice – central tenets of the self – may explain how some people react in alternative, nonprejudiced or egalitarian ways towards certain groups or members of those groups. More outward, or social, motivation factors can explain how or why some people suppress stereotyping. These people desire to present themselves positively to others in order to fit in with others’ expectations or to avoid social disapproval. With this process of external motivation to avoid prejudice in play, interpersonal interactions can occur smoothly.

The different motivating factors, both internal and external, may arise together. The variety of our personal and interpersonal experiences can influence the intensity of this interaction and affect stereotype application. Also, the ability to identify and isolate their separate influence can get difficult. The 2003 review article§ authors commented that “when people become concerned that they may not be living up to their own antiprejudice standards, they may also worry that others may view them as prejudiced.” The conclusion of their review article states “The extent to which one activates and uses stereotypes in a given situation can depend on the goals one is striving to satisfy in that situation.”

Research Background: Guilt, Negative Self-Directed Affect, and Motivated Self-Regulation. Guilt, self-disappointment about one’s transgression against another or a violation of a personal or societal standard, has a long history of playing a critical role in self-regulation. In theory, it keeps a person in line with his or her moral standards and goals. Guilt can regulate social behavior, too.

Guilt, defined here as negative affective experience, can help regulate interpersonal behavior by driving processes to result in action to correct prejudice. The guilt in this context arises from one’s awareness of violations of personal motives to respond in non-biased ways triggers regulatory processes, inhibition of ongoing behavior and self-reflection, which enable one to use these discrepancies to generate and deploy alternative, non-biased responses. The negative self-directed affect, i.e. guilt, relates to one’s motivation to correct these personal failures. “This guilt is critical for triggering subsequent regulatory processes.” This special type of motivated self-regulation works in a couple of ways according to past research.

Basically, researchers€ have shown a dynamic process of guilt. By monitoring brain activity, their laboratory experiment showed that the negative self-directed affect of guilty transgressions of one’s prejudice value system prompts people who value low prejudice behaviors to do two things: interrupts or inhibits transgression behavior (“stop it”) and reparation behavior or making up for past transgressions (“fix it”).

Some people have personal internal motivation to respond in racial stereotyping contexts without prejudice. These low prejudice personal standards get reflected in comparing self-reported ratings of how one should respond in situations involved a stereotyped group with self-report ratings of how one would respond in those situations. People with low prejudice attitudes stemming from their internal motivation standards who have greater should-would comparison discrepancies should experience greater negative self-directed affect, i.e. guilt.  The authors’ research tested the extent to which people who experience negative self-directed affect after responding in biased ways which violate those personal internal standards plays a critical role in the process of motivated self-regulation to reduce stereotype application. They basically asked the question “Do people who feel guilty and disappointed in themselves after becoming aware that they responded with bias against Blacks in violation their personal standards regulate themselves and avoid applying those negative stereotypes?”

High Level Overview and Summary of the Three Experiment Training Away Bias Study Methods, Participants, and Procedures. The research team went beyond the classroom in their three experiment research study. They recruited and used a diverse sample of workers from real life.

Each of the three experiments included counterstereotype training (practice associating Blacks with words such as achiever, ambitious, intelligent, motivated, productive, responsible, reliable and practice associating Whites with words such as complainer, deadbeat, dumb, stupid, lazy,poor, and unemployed). Each study had the participants complete the Implicit Association Test [IAT] measure of stereotyping of Blacks as well as a task for the application stereotypic inferences that the IAT had targeted.

The first experiment included two unique aspects not present in the other two. It had a warning about using stereotypes against Black people, which stated in part “please do your best to avoid thinking about Blacks in biased or stereotypic ways.” Experiment 1 also had a “no training” condition. Those participants received no special instructions.

The second and third experiments included the first experiment’s cognitive training for counterstereotyping. The first two experiments also had the participants view a picture coupled with a brief description, and then record their inferences about the picture. Certain critical trials of the photo inference task had pictures of Black men and descriptions which could yield stereotype-consistent or nonstereotypic inferences, e.g. “this person can be found on the streets” / “homeless” (stereotype) vs. “tourist” (nonstereotype).

Instead of using the photo inference task, the third experiment had the participants evaluate jokes which involved racial humor. These jokes played on stereotypes of Blacks. More particularly, the critical trial evaluations used jokes which disparaged Blacks, e.g. “What can a pizza do that a Black man can’t do? Feed a family of four.” The researchers used this process to assess whether counterstereotyping or heightened motivation for self-regulation would decrease stereotype application.

The last two experiments also examined the effects of negative self-directed affect motivated self-regulation. The participants completed the same cognitive training tasks as in the first experiment. Additional scales and measures came into play to test the effectiveness of motivated self-directed affect as a bias reduction strategy contrasted with cognitive retraining.

The researchers had the participants complete the Should-Would Discrepancy Questionnaire Δ. This self-report survey has the participants rate how they personally believe that they should respond to Blacks in 16 different real life situations. The questionnaire also has the participants rate how they actually would respond in 16 parallel real-life situations involving Blacks.

The researchers used the Should-Would questionnaire answering process to create discrepancies between real-life responding and low prejudice attitudes and values. For people who hold internal low-prejudice values and standards, those with greater discrepancies between their shoulds and woulds should experience greater negative self-directed affect, i.e. guilt and disappointment.

The researchers had the participants rate the extent that certain items applied to their current feelings immediately after answering the Should-Would questionnaire. From those self-reported feelings, the researchers formed an index of negative self-directed affect (“Negself”) from the following items: helpless, shameful, angry at myself, embarrassed, disgusted with myself, self-critical, guilty, and regretful.  which would trigger self-regulation processes to reduce the application of activated negative, unmotivated stereotypes against Blacks. The last two experiments tested the theory of prejudice-related discrepancy driven heightened motivation to self-regulate to reduce the application of Black stereotypes induced by negative self-directed affect.

Results: Differential Effects of Counterstereotype Training and Self-Regulation on Stereotype Activation and Application. Without detailing the statistical and analytical techniques, this part either quotes pertinent conclusions or summarizes certain results obtained in the three experiments as follows:

  • Cognitive counterstereotype training significantly reduced implicit bias about Blacks as measured by the IAT, but this training did not reduce the likelihood of labeling them and applying negative stereotypes to Black targets as homeless, drug addict, poor, criminal [Experiment #1];
  • Warning participants to not stereotype Blacks did not affect the likelihood of their characterizing Blacks by negative stereotypes – a simple warning does not help people realize they they make and apply negative stereotypes to Blacks [Experiment #1];
  • Discrepancy-associated negative self-directed affect related to a reduction in negative stereotype application in that “Participants who reported greater guilt and disappointment with the self over their awareness of their own biased tendencies generated significantly fewer stereotypic inferences” [Experiment #2];
  • Regarding the racial jokes which disparaged Blacks, “To the extent that participants’ motivation to self-regulate biases had been heightened, as indexed by their discrepancy-induced negative self-directed affect, they evaluated the jokes less favorably” [Experiment #3];
  • In Experiments 1, 2, and 3, cognitive retraining did not produce a reduction in stereotype application against Blacks;
  • In Experiments 2 and 3, the participants who experienced heightened negative self-directed affect induced by prejudice-related discrepancies, as reported by responses to the Should-Would questionnaire, had reduced stereotype application against Blacks.

Discussion of Results and Application of Motivated Self-Regulation Strategy to the Legal Profession. Implicit bias affects the judgments formed by our perceptions and impressions. The results of the cognitive footprints of these unconscious processes of negative stereotyping often prompt and mediate our actions towards others in intergroup relations. A growing research database not only has increased awareness that the discriminatory outcomes of implicit (and explicit) bias-driven behavior hurts and harms the victims of such negative stereotypes, but also can show us how to alter the process and avoid or mitigate harms. Implicit bias does not mean inevitable discriminatory outcomes. Activated negative stereotypes do not always get applied.

Many deeply concerned people and organizations, such as the ABA and the Missouri Bar, have created programs to tackle the problem of discriminatory outcomes from the application of negative stereotypes. These organizations and their leaders certainly desire to create programs which produce meaningful change. They certainly want to erase the cognitive footprints of bias. They hope to tame the cognitive monster, and erase the consequences of implicit bias and negative stereotype application. But, first-of-its-kind evidence has shown the limited benefits of cognitive retraining as a component of those well-meaning interventions. Now, change proponents have a new arrow for their quivers – motivated self-regulation.

The motivation to self-regulate, shown by a heightened index of negative self-directed affect, i.e. guilt and disappointment, can reduce the application of negative stereotypes against Blacks. The authors summarized their work and main research finding by stating “Specifically, priming people’s awareness of their propensity to respond in biased ways toward Blacks that conflicted with their less prejudiced standards for responding stimulated feelings of negative self-directed affect, which predicted participants’ subsequent ability to avoid subsequent stereotype application.” This “cascade of consequences” results from feelings of guilt and disappointment. In this self-regulation process, new research results suggest that people who become aware that their biased responses violate personal standards and beliefs monitor for and regulate biased responses in the future.

A recent working paper (Ω) thoughtfully suggests that the legal profession and its academy has “fallen hard” for the implicit bias test (IAT). The piece argues that a new narrative which reflects the deliberative types of decisions in the real world would help more when it comes to tackling the problem of negative stereotyping and harmful discrimination. Behaviors linked with things implicit and unconscious fall outside the realistic reach of deliberative legal decision-making and practical interventions. Instead, the author argues, we should concentrate on discrimination in real world settings. Our personal values and standards against the application of negative racial stereotypes apply here. We need to activate them. The research featured here show guilt and disappointment can. The results of this research support the commentary’s suggestion.

In the “real world” of the legal profession, the change process to reduce negative stereotyping needs a jumpstart. Meaningful change has been too long in coming for people who should have low prejudice internal standards and who work in a profession governed by constitutions, statutes, rules, and ethics which provide, demand, and stipulate the application of equality, not negative stereotypes. As a whole, and considering this new research and applying it to our situation, we need to feel more guilty and disappointed. We all should have sufficient personal goals and standards – internal motivation to self-regulate – when it comes to the application of negative stereotypes. Our “woulds” should match up with our “shoulds” and when we become aware that they don’t, we need encouragement to respond without bias. Promise of meaningful change can occur when experienced guilt and disappointment motivates us to behave in non-biased ways.

This post has featured new research with first evidence from the real world of a new strategy to produce meaningful change in the battle against the discriminatory outcomes of negative racial stereotyping. The legal profession, its leaders, and change advocates should move forward and actively look beyond the IAT for solutions and standards as suggested by recent scholarly commentary Ω. The research study featured here shows that the Should-Would Discrepancy Questionnaire can do that. It makes one aware of a disconnect between values and behaviors in reactions to Blacks. That discrepancy can elicit negative self-directed affect, which in turn is associated with less biased responding.” Also, that strategy has been described as “inexpensive, noninvasive, and easily deployable.” The authors conclude their article by stating about the motivated self-regulation approach to reducing stereotypes and discriminatory outcomes that “If used in concert with other empirically supported strategies in a multi-prong approach to interventions that address both stereotype activation and stereotype application, we may be in the best position to produce meaningful change.” Who would argue against that strategy? Who should?

Thank You.  Thank you very much. Dan DeFoe JD MS – Adlitem Solutions | Organization Development for Professional Services Firms and the Legal Profession: People. Projects. Practices |Web – | Email: | Blog – | Services – Organization Development Practitioner combining and leveraging 25+ years of diverse legal experience, 7+ years of allied health training and work experience, a Master of Science in Organizational Development Psychology, and educationally qualified or earned certifications in industry-leading normal (Myers-Briggs MBTI) and special business (Hogan Assessments) personality; ability (MSCEIT) and self-report (EQi 2.0 [derived from Bar-On model]) emotional intelligence; leadership (Certified Intentional Leadership Coach); and stress management assessment and tools (ARSENAL best practices system for stress resilient emotional intelligence) to partner with client organizations, their leaders, and member to discover needs and opportunities for growth and to design, develop, deliver, and evaluate results from implementing custom interventions for individual, team, project, or organizational solutions. | Mission:  “America’s leading resource for normal personality and emotional intelligence assessments, and related coaching, continuing education programs, training, and workshops for judges, lawyers, law schools, bar associations, healthcare, medical, and other professional services providers and their organizations and leaders.”  Please visit Adlitem Solutions and Psycholawlogy again soon. Thank you very much.

Complimentary Assessment About Emotional Intelligence: Contact me via email at to arrange a time for a no obligation discussion and assessment of your firm’s or firm members’ interests or needs regarding emotional intelligence workshops, training, continuing education, or coaching. For information about taking first steps, see this related post at Psycholawlogy – Emotional Intelligence Memo to Management: EI as a Buffer of [Lawyer] Stress in the Developmental Job Experience .

Posts in Psycholawlogy’s “Beyond the Blue Book” series about Emotional Intelligence in legal education include the following:

Beyond the “Blue Book” – Emotional Intelligence Training, the Pace of Legal Education, and Suggested Remedies

Beyond the “Blue Book” – Two Important “Soft Skills” Which Can Predict [Lawyer] Success in the 21st Century Workplace

Beyond the “Blue Book”: Emotional Intelligence [EQ] Assessment as a Future Gatekeeper of Lawyer Effectiveness?

Related posts on Psycholawlogy about emotional intelligence, lawyers, and the practice of law which might interest you include the following:

Lawyers, the RULER, the Mood Meter, and Emotional Intelligence

Trait Emotional Intelligence [EI] and Lawyers: EI As a Shield Against Burnout and Job Dissatisfaction

Legal Education and Empathy Assessment: Implications for Mental Health, Well-being, and Future Performance

Emotional Intelligence and Orthopedic Surgery Residents – New Study Shows One Way to Go: Up. . . Up. . . Up! – Suggested Lessons for Legal Educators and Lawyers

All-Star [Lawyers] Players – The Top Five (5) EQ-i 2.0™ Attorney Emotional Intelligence Work Success Factors

Post’s Featured Article: Burns, M. D., Monteith, M. J., & Parker, L. R. (2017). Training away bias: The differential effects of counterstereotype training and self-regulation on stereotype activation and application. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology73, 97-110 (copy currently available here).

Additional Resources: *Department of Justice Announces New Department-Wide Implicit Bias Training for Personnel June 27, 2016 press release | Amodio, D. M., Devine, P. G., & Harmon-Jones, E. (2007). A dynamic model of guilt: Implications for motivation and self-regulation in the context of prejudice. Psychological Science18(6), 524-530 (copy currently available here | Devine, P. G., Forscher, P. S., Austin, A. J., & Cox, W. T. (2012). Long-term reduction in implicit race bias: A prejudice habit-breaking intervention. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology48(6), 1267-1278 (copy currently available hereΘ | Lai, C. K., Hoffman, K. M., & Nosek, B. A. (2013). Reducing implicit prejudice. Social and Personality Psychology Compass7(5), 315-330 (copy currently available here) | Kunda, Z., & Spencer, S. J. (2003). When do stereotypes come to mind and when do they color judgment? A goal-based theoretical framework for stereotype activation and application. Psychological Bulletin129(4), 522-544 (copy currently available here) § | Lane, K. A., Kang, J., & Banaji, M. R. (2007). Implicit social cognition and law, Ann. Rev. Law and Soc. Sci., 3, 427-451 (copy currently available here) | Monteith, M. J., Lybarger, J. E., & Woodcock, A. (2009). Schooling the cognitive monster: The role of motivation in the regulation and control of prejudice. Social and Personality Psychology Compass3(3), 211-226 (copy currently available here) | Monteith, M. J., & Voils, C. I. (1998). Proneness to prejudiced responses: Toward understanding the authenticity of self-reported discrepancies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology75(4), 901-916 [Should – Would Discrepancy Questionnaire] (copy currently available here) Δ | Selmi, Michael, The Paradox of Implicit Bias and a Plea for a New Narrative (2017). Michael Selmi, The Paradox of Implicit Bias and a Plea for a New Narrative (Aug. 24, 2017) (Unpublished manuscript).; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2017-63; GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2017-63. Available at SSRN: (copy also currently available hereΩ |

Image Credits: Monster here | Black-White here | Asian American Woman here | Homeless Man here | Shady Character here | Guilty Face here | Arrow Quivers here | Equal Sign here |

Dan DeFoe

Owner and Lead consultant at Adlitem Solutions
I'm an attorney with 20+ years of experience and have an MS degree in organizational development psychology. I provide normal personality and emotional intelligence assessments, assessment interpretation and feedback, and professional development planning and training activities for lawyers, judges, other legal services providers, and their organizations.

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