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About Unconscious Bias: Intuition or Racism?

Photo by Gift Habeshaw on Unsplash

When we meet new people, we already have an idea about them before they even open their mouths. Some call it intuition; some call it the gut feeling. The reality is, the “feeling” is just all the information our brain processes unconsciously; it’s unconscious bias. It’s definitely not all bad and serves a purpose, but there’s more to “intuition” than we think.

Our brain encounters 11,000,000 pieces of information at any given moment, and it’s impossible to process all of the information, especially consciously. This is why we have developed processes that help us reduce the amount of information we receive by classifying, labeling and picking the important parts. The issues arise when these processes are rooted in or affected by negative stereotypes or ideas that we adhere to specific people.

Unconscious bias is not only unconscious in the present but also the past. It means that we probably can’t pinpoint the exact moment we learned to prefer young people over older people or started to think that people of a specific religion seem untrustworthy.

These ideas and stereotypes are created by the people around us, the environment we grew up in, the media we consume, our family, friends, coworkers, bosses, and advertisements on the television. All of these experiences and thoughts have shaped our intuition and our unconscious biases.

Some of the most common biases include:

  • Stereotyping: We expect a person to have specific characteristics because of their group rather than having any actual information about the individual.

  • Anchoring: Our tendency to rely too heavily on one piece of information (usually the first piece) when making decisions.

  • Framing: We come to different conclusions from the same information, depending on how the information is presented.

  • Negativity Effect: When we evaluate the behavior of people we dislike, we attribute their positive traits or behavior to their environment and negative traits or behavior to their nature.

  • Bandwagon: Our tendency to believe or do things because others around us believe or do the same.

Getting unbiased?

We are all biased - it’s just natural to us. The goal is never to remove bias because it is frankly impossible, but to reduce bias in situations where it matters the most. These situations include meeting new people, being presented with new ideas or making decisions involving evaluating people.

The first step is to learn about bias -- which you are already doing! It helps us remember that our “gut feeling” might not be as innocent as we think and that we should give the person or idea a chance to present themselves.

Different kinds of standardized methods and evaluation practices help fight bias - they allow us to compare people, ideas or proposals without our personal opinions affecting the process. If you feel unsure about your judgment in a specific case or want to mitigate bias in a big decision, consult someone else. The more different they are from you, the better; most likely, their biases don’t look like yours.

Yvener Duroseau is author of the new book, Alike Regardless. He is a diversity and inclusion motivational speaker and consultant, digital marketing entrepreneur and creative writer. Yvener now contributes a monthly article to Not Fake News.

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