The hippocampus is a part of the brain that is involved in memory formation and retrieval, spatial navigation, and emotional processing. It is located in the medial temporal lobe, near the centre of the brain. The hippocampus has a distinctive shape that resembles a seahorse, which is why it is named after the Greek word for seahorse.

The hippocampus can reconstruct a whole memory from a partial cue such as a word, an image, or a smell, process known as pattern completion. This process is based on the principle of association, which means that the hippocampus links different elements of an experience together in a network of neurons. When one element is activated, it can trigger the activation of the rest of the network, resulting in the recall of the entire memory.

Now we come onto the last part of the title of this article, namely implicit bias. Implicit bias is a subconscious attitude or stereotype that affects how we perceive and behave towards other people, especially those who are different from us in terms of race, gender, age, religion, etc. Implicit bias occurs because of the brain’s natural tendency to look for patterns and associations in the world, those tendencies described above. Social cognition, or our ability to store, process, and apply information about people in social situations, is dependent on this ability to form associations about the world- we know that our brains like to take shortcuts!

The flip of the coin is that implicit bias can also lead to errors and prejudice, especially when we rely on stereotypes and generalizations that are not accurate nor fair. One can see how implicit bias can affect our decisions and actions in various domains, such as education, health care, law enforcement, and employment. For example, imagine a hiring manager who unknowingly favours candidates who attended the same university as they did. This preference might not be explicitly stated but can subtly influence hiring decisions. We might also use these generalisations to frame our self-image and our interactions and relationships with others.

There is some evidence that the hippocampus plays a role in implicit bias, both in terms of forming and reducing it. For example, some studies have shown that the hippocampus is involved in encoding and retrieving information about social groups, such as their traits, behaviors, and emotions. The hippocampus may also modulate the activity of other brain regions that are involved in social cognition, such as the amygdala, the insula, and the prefrontal cortex.

Some studies have suggested that the hippocampus can help reduce implicit bias by enhancing pattern separation, which is the opposite of pattern completion: it is a cognitive process that allows the hippocampus to distinguish between highly similar events or stimuli, thus reducing interference and confusion. Pattern separation may help us to overcome our implicit biases by enabling us to recognize the individual differences and uniqueness of other people, rather than relying on group stereotypes and generalizations stemming from a few given individuals.

Implicit bias lies at the confluence of neuroscience and behavioural science: an irrational error in thinking that has its roots in energy-saving (and originally lifesaving) processes. An instance of implicit bias in healthcare could be medical professionals dismissing chronic pain in women more readily than in men. This bias stems from viewing men as strong and stoic when dealing with pain, while considering women with chronic pain as emotional or sensitive. Similarly, white people are more readily recommended for bypass surgery compared to people of colour, at times based on the implicit assumption that people of colour might not complete the post-surgery physical exercise regimen.

Luckily, those of us who are privileged enough to not need the implicit bias for lifesaving reasons can find ways to prune it in social situations where it can be detrimental. Implicit bias training can be vital in the healthcare setting, and it can take the form or role play or case studies to help physicians recognise and address biases. Listening without making assumptions can also be a helpful tool in diluting implicit bias, as can blind reviews and analysis processes. At a wider scale, collecting demographic data (e.g., ethnicity, gender) and analysing it by demographic groups can help identify areas where bias may be affecting care.

If you’d like to discuss this further, or find out how HRW Shift can support your business, please reach out to the team at shift@hrwhealthcare.com 


Useful reference:

Biases in healthcare: Types, examples, overcoming bias

Apply Now!

Get in touch:

    I would like to receive news and information from HRW
    I agree to the HRW privacy policy

      Sign up to our newsletter

      If you wish to hear about our latest blogs, podcasts, webinars, and team news, simply enter your email to sign up to our monthly newsletter.


      We use cookies to give you the best possible experience. We can also use it to analyze the behavior of users in order to continuously improve the website for you. Data Policy

      analytical Essential