Helping medical learners recognise and manage unconscious bias toward certain patient groups

Med Educ. 2012 Jan;46(1):80-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.2011.04101.x.


Context: For the last 30 years, developments in cognitive sciences have demonstrated that human behaviour, beliefs and attitudes are shaped by automatic and unconscious cognitive processes. Only recently has much attention been paid to how unconscious biases based on certain patient characteristics may: (i) result in behaviour that is preferential toward or against specific patients; (ii) influence treatment decisions, and (iii) adversely influence the patient-doctor relationship. Partly in response to accreditation requirements, medical educators are now exploring how they might help students and residents to develop awareness of their own potential biases and strategies to mitigate them.

Methods: In this paper, we briefly review key cognition concepts and describe the limited published literature about educational strategies for addressing unconscious bias.

Discussion: We propose a developmental model to illustrate how individuals might move from absolute denial of unconscious bias to the integration of strategies to mitigate its influence on their interactions with patients and offer recommendations to educators and education researchers.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude
  • Cultural Diversity
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / methods*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Prejudice*
  • Recognition, Psychology*
  • Social Values
  • Unconscious, Psychology