An ongoing study of explicit and implicit biases shows that implicit bias around race and sexuality has dropped dramatically, but attitudes about age, disability, and body weight haven’t gone down. Body weight bias even shows a small uptick in the latest survey, but this is less than huge increases in body weight bias seen earlier in the 2000’s.
Contrary to the assumption that implicit attitudes don’t change, we found that actually, three out of the six implicit attitudes have shown change. Sexuality attitudes, at an implicit level, have changed by about 33 percent over the past decade, whereas race and skin-tone perceptions also changed, just at a slower rate: about 17 percent for race attitudes and 15 percent for skin tone attitude. Age, disability and body weight attitudes haven’t changed; actually, body weight attitudes even showed a slight tendency that they’re becoming worse over time.
The researchers explain what’s happening with body weight bias over time this way:
Explicitly, it’s changing the slowest of all explicit attitudes. That was surprising in and of itself. Implicitly, it showed an even starker difference: It is the only attitude out of the six that we looked at that showed any hint of getting more biased over time. That was particularly true in the early years that we were looking at: from about 2004 to about 2010, body weight bias actually increased by 40 percent. So almost as large of a change in the opposite direction from sexuality attitudes. We can only speculate: Body weight has been the target of much discussion, but discussion in a negative light. We often talk about the ‘obesity epidemic,’ or about ‘the problem’ with obese individuals. Also, we typically think about body weight as something that people can control, and so we are more likely to make the moral judgement of, ‘Well, you should just change.’
The way we talk clearly has an impact, and focus on obesity as a problem and disease is only increasing bias, and doing nothing toward positive change.