It came to my mind when I was preparing a lecture about conscious and unconscious bias that it is way easier to understand the grounds of your judgements if you know how to name the factors that could cause them. There are many flavours of bias and we are usually concentrating only on few of them. I’d like to think that it is not because of our lack of empathy but rather because of our lack of awareness.
Let’s go together through some of them to increase our awareness.
Bias is defined as a prejudice in favour of or against one thing, person or group compared with another, usually in a way that’s considered to be unfair.
We have two base-types of bias:
Conscious bias is to be aware of your internal judgment and intentional behaviour.
Unconscious bias refers to being unaware of your internal prejudice and how they influence your behaviour or decisions. This type of bias is by definition hard to identify. Unconscious biases are social stereotypes.
Within those two types of biases, there are many bias flavours.
Affinity bias – occurs when you unconsciously prefer people who are similar to you.
And this is the first striking news right in the beginning. We all like people who are similar to us!! This is just natural! We are naturally biased against people from outside of our social group. This mechanism helped us as mankind to survive, by teaching us to have limited trust in people from outside our tribe.
It is mentioned in the literature that even young children can develop a racial bias. Babies make a distinction between those who are visually similar to people they are used to seeing.
Studies by researchers at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto and their collaborators suggested that babies in their first 6 months of life don’t seem to show any signs of racial bias. One study shows that in their 3rd month they seem to look at the pictures of the people of their own race slightly more often. In their 6-18 month, they seem to develop a prejudice in favour of their own race. This is most probably caused by the fact, that they see their parents (usually the same race) face and associate them with positive emotions and learning.
A study in 2017 suggested that babies aged 6 to 9 months associate happy music with members of their own race and sad music with all others.
Based on that fact we can’t say that babies are racist since racism is defined as a “prejudice, discrimination or antagonism directed at someone of a different race” but it shows that they are aware of visuall differences and have positive associations with what is familiar to them.
Have you ever felt uncomfortable with people who are not like you?
Attribution bias – is about the way you perceive your own actions and actions of others. People often tend to attribute their own success to their hard work, intelligence, skills, and personality while other people’s achievements as a result of luck or favouritism. Other people’s failures are often seen as a result of their mistakes, lack of skills or lack of knowledge.
Have you ever gauged someone else’s work and thought “I’d do that way better…” despite not having the full picture of the situation?
Beauty bias – refers to how we treat another individual based on their attractiveness.
Study shows that most of us tend to judge in favour of more attractive people and assign to them more positive qualities.
It’s been proven that physically attractive people are more likely to be hired and promoted. In one study researchers sent 11 000 CVs to various job openings, including identical CVs accompanied by different photographs. Based on the attractiveness of the attached photo researchers conclude that attractive women and men were more likely to receive an invitation for an interview than unattractive one or those without a photo.
The other research showed that more attractive men are seen as more competent, if they are tall and fit they are seen as more purposeful but attractive women are viewed as less competent than slightly less attractive ones and than really attractive men.
We also tend to gauge that people wearing glasses have a bit higher IQ than those without it.
In one experiment, researchers asked 5-years old to pick up an imaginary boat Capitan. They were told to choose from actual politicians. Kids more often picked the more attractive candidate and their choices predicted the results of past political elections with an accuracy of 80%!
It is hard to accept that most of us are unconsciously biased against obese, oddly-dressed, sometimes tattooed or pierced employees. Those kinds of discrimination are hard to uncover because we tend to rationalise our judgement and choices. Additionally, the mechanism of choosing as a partner the healthiest and strongest individual is also biologically justified.
Try to consider while making your judgement about other employees if they are not based on their attractiveness. We shouldn’t pretend that the effect does not exist. Ignoring that fact could result in discrimination of people from minority groups or other individuals who don’t fit a society’s dominant aesthetic criteria.
Confirmation bias – refers to how people primarily search for bits of evidence that back up their opinions, rather than looking at the whole picture. It leads to selective observation.
This type of bias if combined with attribution bias can result in creating a smoke screen that covers up the discrimination.
We know that the first impression can be done only once. The differrent studies shows that we need between 5-15 seconds to judge the person. Just imagine how objective this gauge must be!
One of the Princeton studies showed that we need about 1/10 second to decide if we trust someone or not. If we are not aware of that fact or we are more narrow minded that we’d like to addmit we can be influence by that judgement, follow the confirmation bias path, and selectivley noticed only facs that support our initial judgement.
Conformity bias – appears when our social circle influences our perception of someone. It occurs because we are social creatures and usually tend to seek acceptance from others.
Conformity bias was exposed in a lot of studies. In one of them called Asch experiment participants were asked to judge which of the lines have identical lengths than the one on the picture.
The results were unexpected. While the subject was evaluating the line heights on its own, the responses were correct, but the minute the subject was placed in a group of other participants (who were in reality confederates) the percentage of correct answers declined. Other “participants”, said their opinion out loud and all of them picked the wrong answer. Even if the response was obvious the subject responded with the same wrong answer just to fit into the group.
The power of conformity bias is frightening because we tend to assume that if the majority of the people do so – this must be right.
As a result, we may not only lose the best-skilled candidates during the interview if some of our other colleagues judged them badly for example because of their appearance, but we may also exclude minorities and be afraid to speak out on their favour or even worst, exclude them and not notice that at all!
Contrast Effect – This is when you gauge a person’s skills or behavior after you have been exposed to a contrasting behavior. The most popular studies describe more often neurological effects. They say about people being unable to guess the temperature of the water when their other hand has contact with really warm or really cold water. Or that when you observe the same colour on the darker or lighter background it seems to have a different shade. But there is also a perception fault where the person seems more attractive when compared with the less attractive individual than if gauged independently.
Hallo and the Horn effects – occurs when we focus on one particularly good (for hallo) or bad (for horns) attribute ignoring all others that could change our judgement. As you probably noticed it can relate to attractiveness bias and conformity bias if attractiveness is the considered attribute.
Being really attractive is a dream. We often tend to assume that the attractive person have more… well… everything. We tend to see more attractive and well dressed people as more successful, healthy, more intelligent, more reliant, more assertive and so on. And this is a hallo effect in working…
The horn effect is similar. Except that we concentrate on one flaw and assume that the person has all the other. We sometimes tend to assume that obese people are more lazy and sloppy. When they happen to sweat that fact could more often be treated with the bigger aversion (as the conformity bias would appear confirming the initial judge about their sloppiness) than the same fact in case of a slim-wasted person.
And last but not least.
Gender bias – A preference towards one gender over the other. It often based on our deep-seated beliefs about gender roles and stereotypes. It was proven that women are more often hired in customer-facing roles. The gender bias can influence not only on hiring decision but on employee evaluation as well.
The gender pay gap is a problem all over the world. On average in UE women are paid 16.2% less for the same work than men. In Poland, this is 7.2%. But let’s not concentrate on that at the moment. This is just a fact that shows how gender bias can influence people’s life.
Gender bias is often based on stereotypes. Most people still assume that all women would like to have kids. That can influence the choices made by both male and female managers when it comes to hiring, raises or promotions of female employees.
On the other hand, popular is thinking that man should earn more than his wife. Some studies showed that the rate of divorces is lower among couples where this assumption is fullfiled! The stereotype against less earning men is that strong, that it can influence on men’s self-assessment. We not tend to see the same correlation when it comes to women who have a lower income.
The world is slowly changing when it comes to geder bias, which is good.
You’ve probably noticed the comercials that challenge the common stereotypes. Father taking care of his kid and changing diapers or preparing a fish that his wife caught to dinner for them. We can see woman driving a car with her man on the passanger seat.
Those are easy to notice signs that we as a sciety acknowledge the problem we try to do something with it.
Lets then try to neame, learn and notice other biases as well – as our awarness can result in improving our behaviour.