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Are There Effective Ways to Reduce Bias and Prejudice?

Scholars report the sobering conclusion that bias interventions are ineffective.

By Lizbeth Jacobs/GoAnimate, used with permission.
Source: By Lizbeth Jacobs/GoAnimate, used with permission.

A review of the scholarly literature on diversity training programs shows that after 30 years and thousands of workplace diversity intervention programs, the most accurate answer to the question of whether such efforts are effective at outlawing bias is “No.”

Most diversity training programs in the workplace are designed to prevent lawsuits by policing people's behaviors. And they are designed to "encourage" people to value and appreciate diversity. They have an agenda to promote.

But studies suggest that trying to command people to adopt beliefs and behaviors can actually trigger oppositional behaviors. People will resist being told how to think and behave.

A majority of U.S. employers use diversity training although the training is ineffective; still, diversity workplace training programs aimed at eliminating bias have become a fixture of the American workplace.

Academics who are interested in studying bias have left the diversity training in the workplace to a group of professional nonacademic consultants.

And academics have turned their attention to measuring bias and prejudice and developing interventions.

The scholarly literature on bias and prejudice is among the most remarkable in all of the social sciences. The total volume of scholarship is notable, reflecting decades of scholarly study of the etiology, definition, measurement, and the consequences of bias and prejudice. It has attracted a range of theoretical views and debates about the best way to measure and conceptualize bias and prejudice. The result is a variety of assessment tools to measure bias and prejudice.

Less remarkable is the status of this literature when evaluated for the practical knowledge that it has produced.

Studying bias and prejudice attracts attention because scholars want to understand and remedy social problems linked to bias and prejudice like violence, inequality, and discrimination. Policymakers share their goals and spend billions of dollars yearly on interventions aimed at prejudice reduction in schools, neighborhoods, and regions troubled by intergroup conflict.

So, given these practical goals, it is natural to ask if anything has been discovered about the most effective ways to reduce bias and prejudice?

Of the hundreds of scholarly studies reviewed by academics, the findings reveal that bias and prejudice reduction interventions in schools, neighborhoods, and regions troubled by intergroup conflict are ineffective—or at best, the effects remain unknown. Scholars have reached the sobering conclusion that more studies need to be done to determine what if anything works.

Copyright © Mona Sue Weissmark All Rights Reserved


Weissmark,M. (forthcoming). The Science of Diversity. Oxford University Press, USA.

Weissmark, M. (2004). Justice Matters:Legacies of the Holocaust and World War II. Oxford University Press, USA.

Weissmark, M. & Giacomo, D. (1998). Doing Psychotherapy Effectively. University of Chicago Press, USA.