Bias

Once we know and accept we have bias, we can begin to recognize our own patterns of thinking. With awareness and a conscious effort, we have the power to change how we think and to challenge the negative or harmful biases within ourselves.

If you are human, you are biased.

Howard J. Ross

Understanding Human Bias
Bias is a preference in favor of, or against a person, group of people, or thing. These initial human reactions, which are often unconscious, are rooted in inaccurate information or reason and are potentially harmful. Biases are also part of being human. Once we know and accept we have bias, we can begin to recognize our own patterns of thinking. With awareness and a conscious effort, we have the power to change how we think and to challenge the negative or harmful biases within ourselves.

Why are we all biased?
Bias is how our minds streamline thinking so we can quickly make sense of the world. Our brains are biologically designed to perform these quick judgments unconsciously. In early prehistory, this unconscious, streamlined thinking was a form of protection against threats from the natural world. Over time, this way of processing has persisted between individuals and groups of people. When acknowledging another person or group, the brain intuitively forms an opinion – good, bad, or indifferent - often minimizing the complexity and humanity of others. Although bias is automatic, with practice, we can learn to change our thinking to allow a fuller, more nuanced understanding of others.

Learn more: Watch Howard Ross explain the science of human bias.

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There is no such thing as immaculate perception.

Jerry Kang

Everything we see, hear, or feel is affected by our biases.
We all have unique experiences that have shaped our version of the truth and created the lens through which we see the world. Humans operate on bias, either consciously or subconsciously.

  • Explicit Bias
    Biases that you are consciously aware of, and that you admit to yourself and potentially others.
     
  • Implicit Bias
    These are biases that are subtly expressed. We don’t initially detect or intend implicit biases, but they can become more apparent with tools and careful self-introspection.

Learn More: In the TEDx Talk “Immaculate Perception,” UCLA professor Dr. Jerry Kang explains what the Harvard University Project Implicit Study reveals about human nature and society:

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Take a moment to reflect

Let's Think

Spend some time reflecting on your own journey, and the role bias plays in your life.

  • What are some of your own biases - positive or negative - that you are aware of?
     
  • How have you experienced bias in your own life
     
  • How might our biases towards others affect how we shape our own lives?

Social psychologist Jennifer L. Eberhardt, interviewed on "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah," said the problems associated with racial bias are ones we have created. She also believes that these are problems we can solve.

Let's Talk

Find a friend to discuss the following questions.

  • Why are biases so prevalent if they are not based on evidence?
     
  • How do biases become norms? How do we stop certain biases from becoming norms?

In this TED Talk, Verna Myers makes a plea to all people: Acknowledge your biases. Then move toward, not away from, the groups that make you uncomfortable. In a funny, impassioned, important talk, she shows us how.

 

Let's Act

It is up to each of us to truthfully evaluate our personal views. Do our perceptions accurately portray others? Researchers have developed tools to help us become more aware of own biases. One such tool, Project Implicit was created by Harvard University to measure our hidden biases and unconscious thoughts through a series of online activities. Try Project Implicit tests for yourself.

Rerouting Shortcuts
Cognitive shortcuts can lead to stereotyping and biased behavior. Here are some suggestions on how to “reroute” these shortcuts.

Activity for Parents
Reflection / Writing Exercise. Ask yourself:

  • What are some hurtful biases my child(ren) might be susceptible to?
     
  • This week I will help correct or prevent these biases by ________.

What to do…

  • Identify and learn from your own biases and fears.
     
  • Seek to interact with others who differ from you.
     
  • Lower your defenses. Listen carefully when someone calls you out and work to see why what they say could be true.
     
  • Consider how your words may have affected others.
     
  • Notice how you feel when someone speaks or behaves with bias towards you. Find ways to speak up if is safe enough or seek support from others if it is not.