What is unconscious bias?
Unconscious biases are the attitudes, assumptions, stereotypes, beliefs and preferences that people hold in the subconscious part of the brain. People are naturally biased without being completely conscious of their prejudices. Unconscious bias is developed at a very early age and is an evolutionary function helping us to make shortcuts in our decision making to conserve energy and filter out unnecessary information. However, unconscious bias becomes a problem when it causes a person or group to treat others unfairly because of their gender, race, age, religion, sexuality or other factors. Unconscious bias is shaped by the societies and cultures that people live in. They are different from cognitive biases which are predictable mental errors that impact how people perceive realities and make decisions.
How many unconscious biases are there?
There are over 150 different types of unconscious bias. Here are just a few examples:
Favouring one gender over another. This can also be referred to as sexism.
Discriminating against or stereotyping others due to their age. For example, viewing older people as less open to change or being stuck in their ways.
Making judgements about someone based on their name. This can often happen with non-Anglo-sounding names in western countries.
Viewing attractive people as more competent and successful than those who are considered less attractive.
The tendency to seek out information that confirms an existing belief and ignoring information which contradicts it.
Conforming to or agreeing with the opinions of others in a group.
The tendency to assume that someone who is good at one thing will be good at everything else.
What are 3 steps to overcome unconscious bias?
Here are three tips you can use to outsmart your own unconscious bias and turn the unexpected into the expected:
- As you go about your day, visualise situations before they happen. Maybe it’s the meeting you’re about to go into, your new doctor, or the new hire on your team. Whatever mental picture you get, change it. Open yourself up to different possibilities.
- When encountering the unexpected, have the courage to examine your own behaviour. Ask yourself, is this how I would handle this encounter if this person looked like me? Or if this person didn’t look like me?
- Make a conscious effort to expose yourself and those around you to that which is currently unexpected and doesn’t need to be.
Unconscious biases are the attitudes, assumptions, stereotypes, beliefs and preferences that people hold in the subconscious part of the brain. People are naturally biased without being completely conscious of their prejudices. Unconscious bias is developed at a very early age and is an evolutionary function helping us to make shortcuts in our decision making to conserve energy and filter out unnecessary information. There are over 150 different types of unconscious bias including name bias, gender bias, the halo effect and many more.
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