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Understanding Bias

Let’s explore bias as a concept.

Bias, "the prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair," can pop up in our lives in two different ways; implicit bias (also known as unconscious bias) or an explicit bias.

Implicit bias: The attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.

Source: Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University

Explicit bias refers to the prejudiced beliefs or attitudes one has towards a person or group on a conscious level. Explicit attitudes are feeling and thoughts that one deliberately believes and can consciously document.

For your reflection today, we will be covering the implicit bias we all hold. Implicit bias can be difficult to acknowledge and control because it exists beyond one's conscious thoughts or feelings.

To understand how implicit bias plays into our everyday life, I want you to write down the names or initials of six to ten people whom you trust the most (who are not family members). Place a tick beside those members of your trusted circle to those that are similar in the dimensions to you listed below.


  • Racial/Ethnic Identity
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Language
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Social Economic Status
  • Religious Affiliation
  • Education

Now, reflect on the questions below.

  1. Do most of the individuals in your Trusted Circle share the same background as you?

  2. What impact do you think this might have on you and your life experiences?

Our Trusted Circle often displays minimal diversity – for most people, their inner circle includes individuals with backgrounds similar to their own. Believe it or not, this is due to a common implicit bias that we all hold.

Studies show that there are 14 different types of biases. For your reflection, we will be going over the most common, but we encourage you to explore the others here.


Affinity Bias: Affinity bias is a kind of mental shortcut that causes people to hold a more favorable opinion of someone who shares similar characteristics. This is the bias at play when we notice a lack of diversity amongst our trusted circles.

The Horn/Halo Effect: The Halo Effect causes a person's impression of someone to be overly influenced by a single personality quality, physical trait, or experience. The Horns Effect causes people to have a negative view of someone based on surface-level impressions.

Confirmation bias occurs when we make a decision, then actively look for information that supports that decision, while also overlooking any opposing facts and viewpoints.

The Attribution bias is all about how we assess behavior. We tend to attribute the cause of others’ behavior as the result of internal characteristics and our own behavior as the result of our environment. When something good happens to us, we believe that it is all our doing. When something bad happens, we blame it on external factors. This occurs when we judge the behavior of others as well. When they do something good, we think it’s usually luck. When something bad happens, we assume it’s their fault.

So, where do unconscious biases come from? Every person has unconscious biases based on our life experiences and mental shortcuts are necessary. Studies show that unconscious thoughts have the largest influence on human behavior.

For many of us, it can be hard to admit our biases and we don’t want to see ourselves falling into these habits. But it is important that we know that we are not immune to certain thinking that can cause harm. And like with any habit, we can break it by taking steps towards our goal of self-awareness. I

Whether an unconscious bias is obvious or subtle, it can create a ripple effect. This ripple effect can cause us to act out on stereotypes; exaggerated beliefs, images or distorted truth about a person or group—a generalization that allows for little or no individual differences or social variation. These behaviors happen most frequently when under pressure, multitasking or simply being in a hurry, so it’s important to pause and reflect on some of our everyday decisions.

Below are some questions to ask yourself, that can increase our self-awareness to reduce our biases.

  • What am I thinking?
  • Why am I thinking it?
  • Is there a past experience that is impacting my current decision?
  • Is the past experience applicable now or is it based on a preference or bias?

Here are some tips for interaction that will give us all the chance to pause and reflect.

  • Remember you are likely to favor people who are like you.
  • Avoid and challenge your quick assumptions and reactions.
  • Base decisions on facts and information rather than “gut instinct”.
  • Build cultural awareness.
  • Remember that this is an “everyone’s issue”. Strengthening our ability to be self-aware and understanding how to manage them has a huge impact on how we engage and learn with others on this campus.


This is not a list of resources but a guide for how to approach and use those resources to further your own education, understanding, and action.

Build your knowledge on this term. - become more educated/informed about a social issue, a community of people, the historical roots of systemic inequality, how systems and institutions reflect and maintain racial and socio-economic hierarchies, theory, data, and storytelling about an issue


Take a few minutes to review the definitions found in the guide on the most common implicit biases.


Read the article Cognitive Biases: What They Are and How They Affect You. Cognitive biases affect every area of our life, from how we form our memories, to how we shape our beliefs, and to how we form relationships with other people. In this article, you will learn more about cognitive biases, understand why we experience them, see what types of them exist, and find out what you can do in order to mitigate them successfully.


Watch P&G’s video on implicit bias, “The Look”. (1:43)

Watch TED Talk’s “Unconscious Bias”.(3:12)
Watch TED Talk’s “Verna Myers: How to overcome our biases? Walk boldly toward them.” (17:54)

Increase proximity or engagement - have more personal experiences with the social issue or community you are learning about which, for those of us this may mean going outside of our own segregated communities where these issues have not been visible

Reach out to the Office of Equity and Inclusion and follow our Instagram page for more information on allyship.

Engage in critical and continuous reflection - creating meaning from the knowledge and proximity through critical thinking that explores one's personal experience of and role in systemic inequality as well as one's understanding of what change could look like and how to do it as an individual and in community with others

On-going learning (especially in groups) can be a form of ongoing action. How can you learn more about the thing you are interested in? For instance, if you learned about police brutality, can you find some history of that issue in the United States or wherever you are?

  • Can you take a free online class or attend a public event about that issue?
  • Can you find another book, movie, podcast, etc. to consume to increase your understanding?
  • Can you find people working on this and join their movement? Can you volunteer?

Want to lead a discussion on this topic? Find the Facilitator's Guide here!

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