Thursday, April 15, 2021

The unconscious bias

 Am I biased?

I've been doing a bit of online learning lately as part of my personal and professional development and I came across a learning module on "unconscious bias" which had me intrigued. I figured if it had me intrigued, it might have you intrigued too.

What is unconscious bias? 

A bias is a tendency or inclination that results in judgement without question - a shortcut if you will to making decisions about the world we live in to make decision making easier. We all have biases of some sort, whether it be a bias towards or against a particular political party, towards or against a sporting team, or towards or against particular people. 

An unconscious bias exists without someone being aware of it, but it still influences their actions and perception of others. 

Bias isn't necessarily a negative thing, despite the negative connotations associated with the term "you're biased". It's simply a component of our unconscious fight or flight tendencies.  Bias exists because it helps us sort information via filters to support points of view and make assumptions.

Biases are prevalent the world over, with studies done on some of the most common examples of the unconscious bias, including height discrimination.  Did you know that in the USA 60% of corporate executives are men who are over six feet tall, even though less than 14% of Americans are six foot or above? 

What unconscious biases could we be harbouring? 

An example of a bias might be that we tend to only engage with people who share common interests rather than taking the time to get to know and learn about others. Other examples found in studies include preferring certain names (eg "white-sounding names" like Ross over foreign sounding names like "Spiros"), gender bias (eg male scientists placing more value on the opinions of male colleagues than female colleagues), confirmation bias (eg only looking at information that confirms our existing beliefs on a subject) and the Halo Effect.

The Halo Effect was founded by psychologist Edward Thorndike in the 1920s to describe the idea that people who think highly of a person in one way (eg believing a person to be good looking) are more likely to think highly of them in other ways as well (eg assuming their good looks makes them intelligent and charismatic).  

Given we know that bias and unconscious bias exists, the question isn't "am I biased?" but rather "what are my bias's?" and "how might my bias impact myself and others?"

Can we change our unconscious biases?

The best news is, our unconscious biases don't have to be permanent. We can take steps to remedy the situation by learning what unconscious bias is, assessing which might affect us, updating our approaches to certain situations and letting data inform our decisions rather than preconceived notions or our natural decision making shortcuts. 

All in all, it's just another exercise in self awareness and another way we can age positively to continue to be the best we can be and get the most out of life. Because, who knows, our greatest experiences may currently be hiding out of reach because of decisions we make based on a bias we're not even aware of.

What are your biases?

How might your bias impact yourself and others?

Have you experienced bias in decisions or assumptions others have made about you?


Today is Thursday which means its the day we take time to focus on the stuff we love about life. I'm loving that the older I get, the more self aware I become which helps me to live my best life. 



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8 comments :

  1. I don't think you can be human and not be biased. We all are results of our nature, our environment and our inner thoughts...and more.The thing though is to recognise your biases if they are hurtful to others. Of course, evolving and growing is what we all do ...and I hope not just when we are learning. Over time, all the time. Great post Leanne.

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  2. It is hard not to be bias. We all have experiences that helps us form an opinion. It is good to be aware of our unconscious bias.

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  3. Oh absolutely, I think every single person has unconscious bias. The real trick is catching yourself thinking it and asking yourself why you thought it.

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  4. Yes, I acknowledge I have biases although I actively try not to. Part of accepting the concept of white privilege is accepting this is reality. Social media really has had an important role, perhaps a devastating role, in exacerbating biases and encouraging echo chambers which is making our societies much more divided and less able to listen and learn. The psychology around it is fascinating.

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  5. I think the saying "like attracts like" came about because we definitely are drawn towards those who have similar values, customs, tastes and beliefs. I don't think that's a bad thing if we're aware of it and take the opportunity to stretch ourselves out of those comfort zones when the opportunity presents itself.

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  6. A great read. Yes, I am definitely guilty of this- thanks for pointing it out! If I do become aware of my bad ways and attitudes, I do try to fix them if I can. (I can, but I don't always want to if that makes sense.)

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  7. It hard not to have some bias the way things are set up. I like how you use names, here is a story. I am bi-racial (Black and White) and my kids are Black, Latino and White. We live on West Coast in the San Francisco Bay Area which is one of the most diverse places in the world.

    My daughter got into an exchange program and got to go to the University of New Hampshire for a year and is on the East Coast of the United States and is mostly rural and white. Not much in the way of diversity. My daughter looks like me and has dark skin. I traveled with her to help her get set up there and one of her dormmates parents was shocked that we were of color. He pulled me aside and said "Your daughter's name is Allison, we didn't think that she would be black," and then went on explaining that there kid had never been around a person of color before. I got the feeling from the other parent as they stayed away from us.

    It was a tough year for my daughter as she had to learn that not every one has grown up in a urban, diverse world as she did. Her roommates were shocked that a person of color could be both street smart and book smart.

    Sorry for being so long.

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    1. Don't be sorry! I really appreciate you taking the time to share your story. I find it gob-smackingly shocking that these attitudes still exist, particularly to the point they would actually point it out in such a blazon way! I'm so sorry your family has been subjected to such bias.

      I too live in a world where there's such a mix of backgrounds. Where we live, 47% of all people living here have had both parents born overseas. Which means we are truly a multicultural area with a mix of background, skin tones, preferences, practices, politics, views, beliefs and orientations. Which means there are a hell of a lot of names I can't pronounce. I have no pre-conceived notions of what a person will look like, eat or believe in before I meet them. I get excited by the possibilities such a diverse community can offer.

      I hope that the people you mention with the bias, can one day identify the bias within themselves and do something about trying to change their mindsets (mindsets they have probably been born into and in which were probably passed on to them from generations of judgement and ill conceived notions).

      Thanks for being such a valued part of my blog! xoxo

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