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Aversive racism and implicit biases in civil rights workers in the United States

Anne Nystasia Marie Hobbs, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The aim of this study was to gain a better understanding of implicit mechanisms that perpetuate inequality. The vast majority of claims of discrimination in this country are filtered through the lens of a civil rights investigator. It is critical to our understanding of civil rights enforcement, and inequality overall, to assess the potential for implicit bias processes of non-judicial government employees to impact the outcome of discrimination cases. Social psychologists have long established that the human brain processes information in highly effective ways that may make it prone to stereotyping and error. I used a vignette methodology to assess whether the non-conscious biases of civil rights investigators impact the cases they investigate. Although there was no association between the race and gender of the decision-maker on case outcome, the complainant’s race and gender were associated with differential case outcomes. Males overall were more likely to have their case ruled as discrimination in a gender discrimination case. Black complaints were more likely to have their case ruled as illegal discrimination in a racial discrimination case. Black male complainants were the most likely to have their case ruled as illegal discrimination. This feasibility study reveals that implicit attitudes can be studied among civil rights workers, and that efforts should be made to minimize the impact of implicit bias processes on investigations. ^

Subject Area

Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies

Recommended Citation

Hobbs, Anne Nystasia Marie, "Aversive racism and implicit biases in civil rights workers in the United States" (2011). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3449976.