Philosophical research impacts on our understanding of the world. We argue that empirically informed philosophy can help us both reduce and control the effects of implicit bias on our behaviour, and challenge the stigma associated with the diagnosis of psychiatric disorders. In both cases, knowledge of philosophy and practice of philosophy make a significant contribution to the development of a fairer society.
Implicit biasImplicit biases are responses to members of social groups (e.g., races, religions, gender, ability groups), associating members with traits in virtue of their social group membership. Biases may occur unintentionally, seemingly without the believer being aware of their occurrence, and are difficult to control. They can lead to the differential treatment of group members.
There is an interesting philosophical debate as to whether implicit biases are:
(1) associations that people make in their thinking and that can only be changed via retraining (Jerry associates women with physical weakness and dislikes Jenny on that basis); or
(2) belief-like mental states that can be changed via the presentation of evidence (Jerry believes that women are physically weak, assumes that Jenny is also weak, and dislikes her for that).
Philosophy can help address stigma by showing that there is no sharp divide (but rather significant continuity) between being mentally well and being mentally unwell. Distress can manifest in a variety of ways, ranging from debilitating diseases affecting good functioning for several years, to temporary forms of anxiety or depression that have no long-term consequences for the person's wellbeing.
In our own research, we have investigated those reports that are often regarded as marks of irrationality and as symptoms of a mental disorder, such as implausible delusional beliefs and distorted autobiographical memories. Although such reports can emerge in the context of psychiatric conditions, they are not confined to them, and can affect everybody.
Research suggests that people routinely ignore evidence when it does not lend support to their often-inflated views of themselves, that they reinterpret memories of failure and overestimate future chances of success, and that they see the past as coloured by their current beliefs and values.