Introduction and Goals

Implicit biases involve the mental shortcuts that we take without being aware of what we are doing and the attitudes and assumptions that can shape our assessments, actions and decisions in subconscious ways (Greenwald & Krieger, 2006). In the applied health sciences such as nursing, medicine and public health, unexamined biases and assumptions cause already at-risk populations to be at increased threat of inequitable access to health care services and to health promoting resources such as the determinants of health (Banks, Kohn-wood & Spencer, 2006; Fitzgerald & Hurst, 2017). Research (i.e. Pritlove et al., 2019) and reported experiences (Feith, 2020; Gray, 2020) demonstrate the acute impact of implicit biases when they are left unaddressed and the moral imperative to address this in our training of health care professionals in the strongest way possible.

The good news is that our brain can learn to slow down and examine our neural associations and assumptions so that we mitigate the harm that implicit biases can cause in our professional lives and beyond. But we have to be intentional about this work.  As scholars and practitioners in the Dramatic Arts and the Applied Health Sciences, we have experienced the value of using applied participatory theatre approaches as a way for learners to explore our implicit biases and develop self-reflexivity.

We intentionally think about learning as a co-reciprocal journey; everyone who participates—from facilitators to students—is involved in a journey of self awareness. Together as co-learners we each bring our unique lived experiences to this shared work and co-reciprocally create new knowledge. We hope that this in turn leads to more self reflexive actions from all of us.

Our main learning objective is that co-learners who engage with this resource will develop a deepened sense of self-reflexivity about the implicit biases that they themselves hold and what the impacts of addressing (or not addressing) these implicit biases may be. In participatory theatre, we often talk about this kind of invitation for self exploration as “a haunting”. Haunting refers to the sense that the thoughts, reflections, and conversations that remain after the educational encounter are etched into the heart and mind of the learner, leaving a lasting impression that evokes further questions and more self-reflexive actions and behaviours.  Our purpose is to help people slow down, reflect and recognize that sometimes our responses to situations and people are based on assumptions and that we are guided by implicit biases rather than facts. If we can get in the habit of slowing ourselves down and considering how our biases might be shaping our decisions and conclusions, we can then explore possible alternative interpretations of a situation. This in turn helps us to consider more ethical, just and respectful responses. We hope that this resource contributes to promoting social accountability among our learners.

Our primary intended audience is undergraduate learners in the applied health sciences. For many of the learners we had in mind when we started on this project, the concept of implicit or unconscious bias was entirely new. We wanted to create an entry level resource for them and for others who feel they are near the beginning of this journey or who have not started it yet, so that they could become more effective health professionals.  It’s not just health professionals who need to be attentive to implicit bias though. Everyone has biases and makes assumptions that are unconscious: teachers, police officers, paramedics, parents, political leaders, and even leaders such as judges and arbitrators whose job it is to be unbiased. We hope that people in many different disciplines will make connections and apply the scenes to their own context in ways that are useful.

We present this resource with humility. We developed it from our own social positions and lived experiences as people who self-identify as women and men; racialized and White; gay and straight and we recognize that there are many experiences of discrimination that we do not have lived experiences of as individuals or within our group. The privileges that many of us experience in our lives limit the ways that we can engage in this area of scholarship and action. Through this project, each of us has become increasingly aware of our own biases—the mental shortcuts that we make every day—that prevent us from seeing each other and situations as we are.

This resource can be used free of charge and without permission. You are welcome to adapt it to your own teaching and disciplinary contexts. We hope that it will spark conversations and encourage all of us to slow down, take a step back, and realize our own roles in perpetuating systems of oppression through the unexamined unconscious biases that we hold. This is a lifelong journey and this small resource is meant to be one piece.



Haunting our Biases: Using Participatory Theatre to Interrupt Implicit Bias Copyright © 2022 by Kevin Hobbs; Michael Martin Metz; Nadia Ganesh; Sheila O'Keefe-McCarthy; Joe Norris; Sandy Howe; and Valerie Michaelson. All Rights Reserved.

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