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UNCONSCIOUS BIAS

OVERVIEW OF UNCONSCIOUS BIAS

Unconscious bias refers to the automatic, unintentional, and often deeply engraved stereotypes, attitudes, or preferences perceived towards certain groups of people. These biases are often based on societal and cultural conditioning, personal experiences, and the human brain's inherent cognitive limitations. It's important to note that everyone has unconscious biases, regardless of their personal beliefs or intentions. As we read along, I will like us to reflect on our individual experiences and observations in our immediate societies, workplace or world at large.

As we reflect on any events or experiences, it is important to reflect in 3 dimensions:

  • Self (personal perception)

  • Non-self (perceived perception)

  • General perception.

This will help us to view these events that come to mind more objectively. Now, let’s continue with the concept of discussion.


Unconscious biases can subconsciously influence a person's behaviour, decision-making, and perceptions without their awareness. This means that even well-intentioned people can unconsciously hold biases that lead them to unintentionally discriminate against certain groups of people. These biases can affect our interactions with others, limit opportunities for certain groups, and perpetuate inequality in society/workplace. Therefore, understanding and addressing unconscious bias is crucial for creating more inclusive and equitable environments for everyone.


IMPORTANCE OF UNDERSTANDING UNCONSCIOUS BIAS

Understanding unconscious bias is important for several reasons, including:

  1. Promoting fairness and equality: Awareness and a good understanding of this concept can mitigate levels of unfair treatment and unequal opportunity provision for persons from marginalised groups. Thus promoting fairness and equality across the board.

  2. Fostering diversity and inclusion: By understanding and mitigating unconscious biases, we can create more inclusive environments that value and promote diversity as well as the benefits of diversity in society/workplace.

  3. Improving decision-making: Without any bad intentions or wrong motives, unconscious biases can also affect individuals’ decision-making, leading to suboptimal or even harmful outcomes. By recognizing and managing these biases, individuals and societies can make more informed and effective decisions.

  4. Building better relationships: Unconscious biases can also affect individuals’ interaction with each other. By understanding and addressing these biases, individuals can build better relationships with others and avoid misunderstandings or conflicts.

  5. Enhancing self-awareness: A good understanding of unconscious biases can help individuals become more self-aware and reflective about their own thought processes and behaviours. This can lead to personal growth and development, as well as greater empathy and understanding for others.

TYPES OF UNCONSCIOUS BIAS

  1. Attribution bias: Attribution bias refers to the tendency of people to attribute the behaviour of others to internal or external factors; e.g. personality, character, or ability (internal factors) rather than situational or environmental factors (external factors). For example, if a trainee performs well on their task, someone with an attribution bias may attribute their success to internal factors, such as intelligence or hard work, rather than external factors, such as a supportive Trainers/supervisors or favourable scheme support programmes. Conversely, if someone performs poorly on a task, someone with an attribution bias may attribute their failure to internal factors, such as a lack of ability or effort, rather than external factors, such as a difficult task or inadequate resources and support. Attribution bias can lead to inaccurate and unfair judgments about others, as well as a lack of empathy and understanding for their experiences. In some cases, it can also lead to discrimination, as people make assumptions about the capabilities and characteristics of others based on limited information.

  2. Confirmation bias: Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, and remember information in a way that confirms one's pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses. It is a type of cognitive bias, which is a systematic error in thinking that can lead to inaccurate or irrational judgments. Confirmation bias can affect people in a variety of contexts, from personal beliefs and opinions to scientific research and decision-making. Confirmation bias can lead to a number of negative outcomes, including:

- Inaccurate beliefs and opinions: By selectively attending to information that confirms pre-existing beliefs, people may miss out on contradictory information and develop a skewed understanding of a topic or issue. - Polarization and groupthink: Confirmation bias can contribute to the formation of echo chambers, where people only interact with others who share their beliefs, leading to polarization and groupthink. - Missed opportunities: Confirmation bias can lead people to discount information that could be important or useful, which can lead to missed opportunities in personal and professional contexts. - Poor decision-making: Confirmation bias can also lead to poor decision-making in a variety of contexts, including business, politics, and personal relationships. To counteract confirmation bias, it's important to actively seek information that challenges preexisting beliefs, consider evidence from multiple sources, and remain open to new ideas and perspectives. Additionally, it can be helpful to engage with people who hold different beliefs or perspectives in order to gain a deeper understanding of different viewpoints.


3. Beauty bias: Beauty bias refers to the phenomenon in which people who are considered physically attractive are treated more favourably than those who are not. This can occur in a variety of contexts, including the workplace, social situations, and even in the legal system

- Halo and horns effect: The halo effect refers to the tendency to form an overall positive impression of a person based on a single positive trait or characteristic. For example, if someone is physically attractive, we may assume that they are also intelligent, kind, and successful, even if we have no evidence to support these assumptions. The halo effect can be particularly strong for traits that are culturally valued, such as physical beauty or social status. Conversely, the horns effect refers to the tendency to form an overall negative impression of a person based on a single negative trait or characteristic. For example, if someone is unattractive, we may assume that they are also unintelligent, unpleasant, and unsuccessful, even if we have no evidence to support these assumptions. The horns effect can be particularly strong for traits that are culturally stigmatized, such as physical unattractiveness or social awkwardness. They can also contribute to the formation of stereotypes and discrimination. To counteract the halo and horns effects, it's important to be aware of our own biases and to actively seek out evidence to support or challenge our assumptions about others. This can involve taking the time to get to know people as individuals, rather than relying on stereotypes or first impressions. It can also involve questioning our own assumptions and being open to different perspectives and experiences. By doing so, we can promote greater understanding, empathy, and fairness in personal and professional relationships.


UNDERSTANDING THE IMPACT OF UNCONSCIOUS BIAS

Bias can have a significant impact on decision-making, often leading to suboptimal or even harmful outcomes. Bias can take many different forms, from conscious prejudices to unconscious stereotypes and mental shortcuts. Some examples of the impact of bias on decision-making include:

  • Hiring and promotion decisions: Bias can lead to discrimination in the workplace, with certain individuals being favoured or disadvantaged based on their race, gender, age, or other factors. For example, a hiring manager may unconsciously favour candidates who are similar to them or who fit certain stereotypes, even if these candidates are not the most qualified.

  • Medical diagnoses and treatment: Bias can impact medical decisions, with doctors and healthcare providers making assumptions based on a patient's race, gender, or socioeconomic status. This can lead to misdiagnoses, delayed treatment, or suboptimal care.

  • Legal judgments: Bias can influence legal decisions, with judges and juries making assumptions based on a defendant's race, gender, or socioeconomic status. This can lead to unfair judgments and unequal treatment under the law.

RECOGNIZING PATTERNS AND TRENDS IN BEHAVIOUR

Recognizing patterns and trends in behaviour is an important aspect of understanding human behaviour and decision-making. By observing and analysing patterns in behaviour, individuals can gain insights into underlying motivations, biases, and thought processes, which can in turn, can inform more effective communication, decision-making, and problem-solving. Some key steps in recognizing patterns and trends in behaviour include:

  • Gathering data: To recognize patterns and trends in behaviour, it is important to collect and analyse data. This can involve a variety of sources, such as surveys, interviews, observations, or existing research studies.

  • Identifying commonalities: Once data has been collected, it is important to identify commonalities and patterns in the data. This can involve looking for trends in demographic information, behaviours, attitudes, or outcomes.

  • Analyzing underlying factors: After identifying commonalities, it is important to analyze underlying factors that may be driving these patterns. This can involve asking questions such as "What motivations or beliefs are driving this behaviour?", "What environmental factors may be contributing to this trend?", or "What biases or assumptions may be impacting these outcomes?".

  • Testing assumptions: To validate patterns and trends in behaviour, it is important to test assumptions and hypotheses. This can involve conducting additional research, seeking out alternative viewpoints, or engaging in critical analysis.


By recognizing patterns and trends in behaviour, individuals can gain insights into complex social and psychological phenomena. This can help inform more effective decision-making, communication, and problem-solving in various contexts, from personal relationships to business and politics.

  1. Feedback from others is an essential tool for self-improvement and growth. By seeking out feedback from trusted sources, individuals can gain insights into their strengths and weaknesses, as well as opportunities for growth and development. Feedback can come from a variety of sources, such as colleagues, supervisors, mentors, coaches, or friends and family. Here are some key tips for seeking and using feedback effectively:

  • Be open to feedback: One of the most important steps in seeking feedback is to be open to it. This means being willing to listen to feedback without becoming defensive or dismissive, and being open to learning and growth.

  • Seek out specific feedback: To make the most of feedback, it is important to be specific about what you are looking for. This can involve asking for feedback on particular skills or areas of your work, or asking for feedback on a specific project or task.

  • Choose your sources carefully: When seeking feedback, it is important to choose your sources carefully. This can involve seeking out individuals who are knowledgeable and experienced in your field, as well as individuals who are objective and unbiased.

  • Use feedback to inform action: To make the most of feedback, it is important to use it to inform action. This can involve developing a plan for improvement based on the feedback received, and actively working to make changes and improvements based on this plan.

By seeking out and using feedback effectively, individuals can gain insights into their strengths and weaknesses, as well as opportunities for growth and development. This can help to improve performance, build stronger relationships, and achieve personal and professional goals.

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Dr Omosefe Christina
Dr Omosefe Christina
Mar 10, 2023
Rated 4 out of 5 stars.

Few years ago, I learnt about the power and impact of beauty bias in our modern society, especially in leadership. It is important for everyone, including leaders to be mindful of their unconscious bias and learn to look beyond the external to the work/actions/impact of members or teammates. Failing to identify bias can leader to unintentional exclusions. It is important to recognize that everyone has biases, whether conscious or unconscious, and these biases can impact our decision-making and interactions with others. However, it is up to us to take proactive steps to identify and address our biases. Thank you for this reminder.

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