Unconscious Bias

What is unconscious bias?

‘Bias’ is a concept related to prejudices and stereotypes. One may be biased against or in favor of a situation, a person or a group, and biases may be held by individuals, groups and institutions. They are cognitive distortions which may have negative as well as positive effects for the groups or people concerned.

Some of these biases may be conscious (explicit bias), others are not (unconscious or implicit bias). Such biases may be formed with regards to age, gender, family background, (physical) ability, religion, sexual orientation, body/appearance and many other factors. Everyone holds some unconscious bias – which may even be directly opposed to their conscious values. It is just the unconsciousness of unconscious bias that makes it so hard to uncover and dismantle.

Biases tend to result from stereotyped perceptions, patterns of thinking and reacting we derive from our own or others’ previous experience in order to be able to react more quickly to new information. They result from the human inclination to reduce the complexity of social worlds by way of categorization. Certain situations are more likely to provoke unconscious biases than others. Pressure, limited time and multitasking can increase the need for the mind to reduce complexity.

Below you can find more information on the forms of unconscious bias, as well as examples of how it may take effect in professorship appointment procedures and how to reduce it.

Videos about unconscious bias

The following videos will give you an overview on what unconscious bias is, how to research it and what relevance it has in academia.

© Royal Society

Understanding Unconscious Bias

This animation by the Royal Society provides a basic explanation of unconscious bias. It addresses questions on the origins of unconscious bias in science, as well as how to deal with it. [2:59 min]

© Saleem Reshamwala

Check Our Bias to Wreck Our Bias

This Emmy Award-nominated video by Saleem Reshamwala is part of a series on bias by the New York Times. It explains how unconscious bias is measured and offers viewers ways of becoming aware of and acknowledging their own bias. [3:00 min]

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© Institució CERCA

Recruitment Bias in Research Institutes

In this video, real scenarios from academic appointment committees are re-enacted and used as examples to point out alternative courses of action, enabling those involved to reflect critically on their own bias. [7:59 min]

Further Reading on Unconscious Bias

Online Tutorial: Gender Bias in Appointment Procedures

This online tutorial by the University of Heidelberg consists of three independent modules providing information on cognitive distortion relating to gender and illustrates what particular factors can influence the way applicants of different genders are evaluated.

Buchstabenwürfel auf gelbem Untergrund bilden den Begriff Unconscious Bias

PDF Brochure: Unconscious Bias in Professorship Appointment Procedures (German)

This manual is designed to help you identify unconscious biases and ideally to diminish their effects. In particular, it focuses on avoiding and reducing biases in professorship appointment procedures.

Wird geladen