The Prejudice Habit-Breaking Intervention


Increasingly, universities and other organizations have become concerned with identifying strategies to reduce rates of bias incidents and to promote equality. Abundant evidence indicates that, however well-intentioned, diversity and bias intervention efforts that are not based on scientific evidence at best do not work and very often make bias problems worse (e.g., Apfelbaum et al., 2012; Dobbin & Kalev, 2013; Legault et al., 2011; Paluck & Green, 2009). In response, nearly every major scientific organization (e.g., NIH, NSF, AAAS) has emphasized the need for evidence-based approaches to addressing bias and promoting diversity (e.g., Moss-Racusin, et al., 2014). The goal of understanding, predicting, and changing human behavior is best served by the scientific method, and addressing issues of bias, diversity, and inclusion is no exception; it requires a scientific, evidence-based approach to create change and demonstrate the effectiveness of efforts to reduce bias and enhance diversity.

As recently described in an article in The Atlantic, UW-Madison is home to scientific leaders in the study of implicit bias and bias interventions, and home to the only intervention that has been shown experimentally to produce lasting bias-reducing effects.

Dr. Devine and Dr. Cox

Dr. Devine (Website, CV) has been a social psychology professor at UW-Madison since 1985, and is internationally recognized as an eminent expert in the scientific study of stereotyping, prejudice, and intergroup relations. The very notion of “implicit bias” or “unintentional bias” originated in her early work (Devine, 1989; cited 6214 times). Devine conceptualizes prejudice reduction as a process of "breaking the prejudice habit," which requires awareness and concern about bias and one’s own role in perpetuating bias, motivation to overcome bias, and tools to aid or guide one’s efforts to reduce bias. Whereas previous models of prejudice suggested that prospects for true change were dim, Devine’s model offers encouraging prospects for true reductions in prejudice.

Dr. Cox (Website, CV) is a social psychologist and is currently an assistant scientist in the department of psychology at UW-Madison. Cox’s work has focused on uncovering the specific neural, cognitive, and social mechanisms that perpetuate bias and stereotypes. Cox argues that understanding these bias perpetuation mechanisms is key to overcoming bias, which interfaces with the awareness component of Devine’s habit model to enhance the effectiveness of long-term prejudice reduction.

The Prejudice Habit-Breaking Intervention

In 2008, Dr. Devine, Dr. Cox and their colleagues harnessed the theoretical and empirical insights from her considerable body of foundational, pioneering work to develop an intervention designed to promote concern about unintentional bias and discrimination and to empower people to overcome unintentional biases. The prejudice habit breaking intervention was the first, and remains the only intervention that has been shown experimentally to produce long-term changes in bias (Devine, Forscher, Austin, & Cox, 2012, cited 208 times; Forscher, Mitamura, Dix, Cox, & Devine, 2017). Dr. Devine, Dr. Cox and their colleagues have adapted this intervention for many different audiences, including public school teachers, professors, graduate students, and police officers. A gender version of this intervention directed at STEM faculty (Carnes et al., 2012) caused UW-Madison science departments to a 15 percentage point increase in hiring women as faculty (Devine, Forscher, Cox, Kaatz, Sheridan, & Carnes, 2017). In several randomized-controlled studies, Drs. Devine and Cox have tested this intervention’s replicability and long-term effectiveness, with its effects lasting up to at least 2-3 years post-intervention.

The Atlantic article offers a nice lay-terms summary of our evidence-based intervention work, the links to our CVs and papers above provide in-depth details, and we’re happy to answer any questions via email or phone.

For those requesting our workshop

We routinely receive a large number of requests to deliver the habit-breaking intervention, or for consultation on others’ bias-reduction workshops. We will respond to inquires as soon as possible. To enhance the efficiency of our responses, it would be helpful to have you tell us a bit more whether you are interested in having us deliver a workshop to your unit or organization or whether you are seeking consulting advice on your own intervention efforts. Below is some general information and you will also find links to our website, where you can provide more information.

If you would like us to come and deliver our workshop to your group, we can arrange that with you. The standard workshop is 2 hours long, and an ideal size for a workshop is up to 100 people, because there are some interactive activities, but larger groups are possible, albeit with fewer interactive activities. 

To set up a call to discuss fees and details for Drs. Cox and Devine coming to deliver the prejudice habit-breaking intervention workshop at your college, department, company, or organization, contact Dr. Cox.