Unconscious Bias

Between devil or angel

“The Unconscious is selective , when it learns what to listen for” Author  Philip K Dick

As the name suggests, you’re not necessarily aware of an unconscious bias, but it’s something that’s there all the same. It’s part of daily life, and it’s there whenever you make quick judgements about other people without giving them conscious thought. We all do it, we make snap assessments and form instant opinions of others, but these judgements and opinions are biased, they’ve been influenced by your background, culture, and experiences in life, and you don’t even realise you’re making them.

Your unconscious biases have formed through your personal experiences, beginning right back in childhood. The influences of your parents are there, your upbringing, your cultural environment, and every interaction you’ve had with other people throughout life. Without realising it, these influences affect your attitudes and behaviours towards other people, making it important to become consciously aware of the implications. In short, an unconscious bias can lead to prejudice and discrimination.

Danger Detector

Back in the days of our ancient ancestors, an unconscious bias may have been an unconscious danger detector. Being able to make intuitive decisions about other people and prejudging them as hostile or friendly could be crucial to survival, but in today’s world, the same intuitive bias and subconscious prejudging can lead to unhelpful social labelling and stereotyping.

An unconscious bias can form based on many factors such as race, religion, age, gender, social background, or education. Without realising it, we prejudge and instantly categorise people we meet according to existing biases. This is not always a bad thing because it’s this unconscious process that allows us to interact and behave in socially acceptable ways depending on the situation. However, an unconscious bias is not always helpful.

The Halo and the Horns Effect

A good example of the unhelpful aspects of unconscious bias can be found in what is known as the “halo effect” and the “horns effect”. With this bias, something about your first impressions of someone will either be favourable enough to blinker you to anything other than positives about them or unfavourable enough to blinker you to anything other than negatives about them.

It’s easy to imagine that this is not something you would do, but it happens often and, of course, it happens without any conscious thought being applied to it. Numerous studies have highlighted its prevalence, not least in the workplace. A candidate in a job interview may be given a “halo” or “horns” based on an unconscious bias; an employee may be awarded or denied a promotion based on first impressions and an unconscious bias that has nothing to do with merit or performance in the role, and a team member may find their ideas being ignored, only to find the same idea being applauded when put forward by someone else. Sound familiar?

Be Consciously Aware

Unconscious biases exist and we’re all influenced by them, but by making a conscious effort to recognise them, we can prevent them from becoming unjust prejudices and stereotypes. The next time you find yourself instantly judging a book by its cover, stop, and think again. Are your attitudes and opinions based on fact and reality, or are you filtering what you see through an unhelpful and unnecessary bias?

For the last 17 years Don MacNaughton has worked with thousands of players and coaches on the mental side of their game .If you are interested in working with Don on an individual level please  email donald@zonedinperformance.com

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