The Actual Versus Idealized Self: Exploring Responses to Feedback About Implicit Bias in Health Professionals

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Abstract

Purpose

Implicit bias can adversely affect health disparities. The implicit association test (IAT) is a prompt to stimulate reflection; however, feedback about bias may trigger emotions that reduce the effectiveness of feedback interventions. Exploring how individuals process feedback about implicit bias may inform bias recognition and management curricula. The authors sought to explore how health professionals perceive the influence of the experience of taking the IAT and receiving their results.

Method

Using constructivist grounded theory methodology, the authors conducted semistructured interviews with 21 pediatric physicians and nurses at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, Western University, Ontario, Canada, from September 2015 to November 2016 after they completed the mental illness IAT and received their result. Data were analyzed using constant comparative procedures to work toward axial coding and development of an explanatory theory.

Results

When provided feedback about their implicit attitudes, participants described tensions between acceptance and justification, and between how IAT results relate to idealized and actual personal and professional identity. Participants acknowledged desire for change while accepting that change is difficult. Most participants described the experience of taking the IAT and receiving their result as positive, neutral, or interesting.

Conclusions

These findings contribute to emerging understandings of the relationship between emotions and feedback and may offer potential mediators to reconcile feedback that reveals discrepancies between an individual’s actual and idealized identities. These results suggest that reflection informed by tensions between actual and aspirational aspects of professional identity may hold potential for implicit bias recognition and management curricula.

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