Virtually Imagining Our Biases

Ema Sullivan-Bissett*

*Corresponding author for this work

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A number of studies have investigated how immersion in a virtual reality environment can affect participants’ implicit biases. These studies presume associationism about implicit bias. Recently philosophers have argued that associationism is inadequate and have made a case for understanding implicit biases propositionally (Levy, 2015, Mandelbaum, 2016). However, no propositionalist has considered the empirical work on virtual reality and how to integrate it into their theories. I examine this work against a propositionalist background, in particular, looking at the belief and patchy endorsement models. I argue that the results therein can only be accommodated by a model which recognizes structural heterogeneity, that is, one which allows for implicit biases being both associatively and non-associatively structured. My preferred view—that implicit biases are constituted by unconscious imaginings—allows for this, as well as for heterogeneity at the level of content (propositional and imagistic), a feature which also earn its explanatory keep in this context. I conclude that empirical work on virtual reality and implicit bias gives us a reason to prefer a pluralist model of bias, and that my unconscious imagination model, in its recognizing wide-ranging heterogeneity, is uniquely placed to accommodate the results of work on virtual reality and bias mitigation.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPhilosophical Psychology
Early online date1 Mar 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Mar 2023


  • Implicit bias
  • associationism
  • propositionalism
  • doxasticism
  • unconscious imagination
  • virtual reality


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