Unconscious Bias: Masking Your Hidden Prejudices

Behind every decision you make, there is an underlying cause. You feel like you have made the right choice. But what if that decision was based on an unconscious bias, without you being aware of it?

An unconscious bias is an involuntary and/or automatic mental association, belief, or attitude towards any social group.

Unconscious biases are omnipresent: from the people you choose to sit next to, people you choose to help, your close friends, people you date. Your brain collects information, process them in a certain way, unconsciously sift, sort, and categorize it. This leads to the formation of unconscious biases. We are affected by these biases as we tend to seek out patterns, take mental shortcuts and condition it with our personal experiences. You may believe that you are not susceptible to these biases, but we all do it whether we like it or not. It forms the basis of our relationship with others, and the world at large.

Many biases are influenced by our environment and pre-existent stereotypes in our society. Gender, race, ethnicity, age, sexuality, language, body size, job title, etc. largely influence our unconscious associations and judgements. This does not necessarily mean that you hold prejudice against someone, but it often becomes difficult to separate ourselves from these influences. So, it is important to be aware of our unconscious beliefs and the ways in which society influences us.

Unconscious biases can have effects in schools, healthcare settings, workplace faculties, and so on. For example, if you have only seen male doctors, you may unconsciously assume that the male examining you in a medical centre is a doctor when he is a nurse. In schools, girls show an unconscious belief that boys have stronger aptitude in math. If you need a repair job, you would be most likely to approach a man rather than a woman.. For a role that requires empathy, you may choose a woman rather than a man.

Unconscious biases affect our behaviour and decision-making processes in many ways. Below are the most common types of unconscious bias and stereotypes we may not recognize in ourselves:

1.  Affinity Bias – When you try to warm up to people who are like you in some way.

2. Confirmation Bias – When you make a judgement about a person and look for information that confirms beliefs you already hold.

3. Halo Effect – When you put someone on a pedestal and think that everything about that person is good simply because you like them.

4. Horns Effect – When you concentrate on one poor quality of a person and perceive them negatively.

5. Group Think – When people strive for consensus within a group without critical reasoning. You try to accept a viewpoint to fit in and hold back your opinions. 

6. Gender Bias – When you prefer one gender over another or assume that one gender is better for the job.

7. Ageism – When you stereotype against someone based on their age.

8. Weight Bias – When you judge a person negatively because of their weight.

9. Beauty Bias – When you believe that attractive people are more successful, competent, and qualified.

10. Contrast Effect – When you evaluate two people in comparison to one another because you experienced them in close succession, instead of assessing them on their own merits.

To prevent our hidden prejudices from manifesting into action, we need to recognise and reflect on our biases. Do not ask yourself: “Am I biased?”; ask yourself: “What are my biases? Why did I make that decision?”. Your decisions should be based on who is the right person for the role, not the gender you perceive to be most capable. Focus on the individuality of a person. Look at their skills, qualities, and experience. Pay close attention to your choices. Make a conscious effort to defy stereotypes.Broaden your exposure by spending more time with people of diverse backgrounds. Share your biases with others and work together to minimise its overall effect in your behaviour.

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