Antidiscrimination Law's Effects on Implicit Bias

47 Pages Posted: 29 Jan 2007 Last revised: 31 Mar 2015

See all articles by Christine Jolls

Christine Jolls

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Yale Law School

Date Written: October 2005


It is by now commonplace to observe that bias on the basis of race and other traits in American society today is primarily unconscious, or implicit, rather than conscious in nature. It is equally commonplace to critique existing antidiscrimination law for its failure to create significant liability for behavior stemming from such implicit bias. Despite this broad condemnation of existing antidiscrimination law, essentially no progress has been made on efforts to reform the law in response to the problem of implicit bias. The present paper suggests, however, that an important piece of the relationship between antidiscrimination law and implicit bias has been overlooked in the existing debate. The missing piece is the way in which current antidiscrimination law - although it concededly does not aim at implicitly biased behavior in a significant way - nonetheless tends to have the effect, in a wide range of respects, of reducing implicit bias. In this account of antidiscrimination law, the existing legal regime occupies a far more positive, although admittedly still imperfect, relationship with implicit bias. As explored in the paper, in diverse areas ranging from employment law to education law to the law governing various types of voluntary organizations, current antidiscrimination doctrines are likely to shape and affect the level of people's implicit bias in important ways. Understanding these previously ignored effects of current antidiscrimination law allows us to appreciate what is valuable, good, and worth celebrating about this law, notwithstanding its undeniable shortcomings.

Keywords: implicit bias, antidiscrimination law

JEL Classification: J71, J78

Suggested Citation

Jolls, Christine and Jolls, Christine, Antidiscrimination Law's Effects on Implicit Bias (October 2005). Yale Law & Economics Research Paper No. 343, Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 148, Available at SSRN:

Christine Jolls (Contact Author)

Yale Law School ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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