Grappling With Implicit Social Bias: A Perspective From Memory Research

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There is now widespread consensus that social biases often influence actions independently of the actor's intention or awareness. The notion that we are sometimes blind to the origins of our thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors also features prominently in research into domain-general human memory systems, which has a long history of distinguishing between implicit and explicit repercussions of past experience. A shared challenge across these fields of study is thus to identify techniques for effectively managing the contents of our memory stores, particularly those aspects into which we have limited metacognitive insight. In the present review, we examine recent developments in the cognitive neuroscience of human memory that speak to this challenge as it applies to the social domain. One area of progress pertains to the role of individuation, the process of attending to and representing in memory unique characteristics of individuals, which can limit the influence of generalizations based on social categories. A second body of work concerns breakthroughs in understanding memory consolidation, which determines the fate of newly encoded memories. We discuss the promise of each of these developments for identifying ways to become better stewards of our social minds. More generally, we suggest that, as with other forms of learning and memory, intentional practice and rehearsal may be critical in learning to minimize unwanted biases.

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