Bias

What is the best ice cream flavor? Is it chocolate chip? Mint? Strawberry? 

Bias Bias

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Table of contents

    Whatever answer you provide to this seemingly simple question will ultimately be biased. It is near impossible to answer this question objectively or without bias, because there are so many factors that will influence your answer. Your personal preference, distinct palette, and overall unique experience all contribute to what you believe to be the best ice cream flavor. This makes every individual’s answer different. While this is a harmless example of a bias, certain biases can actually impact our behaviors and perspectives on a more significant scale.

    • We will introduce the meaning of bias.
    • We'll describe the types of biases within psychology.
    • We'll provide modern-day examples of bias.
    • We will identify the differences between biases.

    Definition of Bias in Psychology

    The basic meaning of a bias is the tendency to oppose or support an idea, person, or concept over another without maintaining objectivity. In other words, choices, decisions, or perspectives under a bias may often be seen as unfair.

    Bias: In psychology, a bias is defined as a preference, opinion, or inclination in support of or in opposition to a concept, person, or results.

    Of course, this can pose a threat in many aspects of the realm of psychology. Because of the empirical and scientific nature of psychological studies and investigations, biases are factors within research that experimenters, review boards, and consumers are highly skeptical of.

    Imagine an experimenter is comparing treatments for depression. However, the experimenter’s brother happens to own the company that represents one of the treatments in the study. Is there a possibility the experimenter will display biased results due to their familial connection with the founder of one of the treatments?

    This is just one example of possible bias within the topic of psychological research. While the presence of this bias was clear, not all biases are easy to spot.

    In fact, whether you notice it or not, you and society as we know it, operate under biases all the time! No one individual is perfect or safe from the unconscious and natural decision-making that occurs under personal bias. These factors may even influence your friendships, love interests, work environments, beliefs, and perspectives.

    Bias Types in Psychology

    Let's go over the common types of bias people exhibit every day in society.

    All types of bias in psychology fall under two main categories:

    1. Conscious bias

    2. Unconscious bias

    As the names suggest, there are a few fundamental differences between them.

    Explicit Bias and Conscious Bias

    A conscious bias, also known as explicit bias, is one of the main types of biases that is characterized by a person's awareness surrounding their own biases. Unlike implicit bias, conscious biases often feature intentional behaviors and expressions that adhere to prejudices, opinions, and judgmental attitudes.

    More often than not, someone exhibiting a conscious bias is engaging in discriminative or exclusive actions and behavior towards opposing groups or ideas. This can be seen in a vast amount of political, ethical, and societal issues experienced in the world today.

    One problematic finding demonstrating the issues associated with conscious biases includes a study conducted by a professor at New York University. The study found that out of 100 million traffic stops performed by police in the United States, black drivers were 20 percent more likely to be pulled over than white drivers (2020).

    The issue of conscious biases regarding ethnicity and racial prejudice occurs on a global scale, and remains unresolved. Hopefully, through continued education on these harmful biases, further efforts will be made to eradicate such disturbing behavior.

    Other examples of conscious bias can be seen in matters pertaining to gender inequalities. Think of the time that elapsed before women were allowed to vote, drive, or pursue higher education. An entire nation, if not the global population, held a conscious bias against an entire gender. To this day there are conscious biases against certain genders on multiple levels. Identifying these prejudicial notions is essential to learning and deviating from these ways of thinking.

    Implicit Bias and Unconscious Bias

    Unconscious bias, or implicit bias, contains multiple subdivisions. These underlying biases may often go completely unnoticed. These biases can influence several facets of your own life, from the types of food you eat all the way to the friends you choose to surround yourself with. These types of biases may or may not be harmless to daily life; however, they are a part of what makes us human.

    Let’s go over the different types of unconscious bias and examples of what these biases might look like in real-life.

    Actor-Observer Bias

    This type of bias describes the tendency we, as humans have, to attribute our behaviors and actions to factors outside of our own control. Apart from this, people tend to attribute others’ actions and behavior to their intentional demeanors and personalities, rather than factors outside of their control.

    Carrie is always showing up late to work. She consistently blames her shortcomings on the traffic, limiting time frame, or unfair work policies. Instead of taking responsibility for her own behavior, she uses external factors to excuse herself. On the other hand, she complains that her boss is lazy, unmotivated, and rude for not attending to her time off request she submitted earlier in the week. Carrie completely disregards the possibility of a heavy workload or other commitments that could be keeping her boss from responding right away. This would be an example of actor-observer bias.

    Anchoring Bias

    This bias is the common inclination one has to rely too heavily on initial impressions and information. In other words, a first impression or early information may cloud the individual's ability to think objectively in judgments that follow.

    An example of anchoring bias is seen commonly in sales. Think of the national holiday “Black Friday” in the US. Right after Thanksgiving, shoppers flock to department stores with hopes of saving on big-ticket items like televisions, gaming systems, etc. Unfortunately, these consumers may just be victims of anchoring bias. Stores purposely tag these expensive items with the original price first, before they add on the “sale” price right below it. Despite the new price only costing a few dollars less, buyers compare it to the expensive original price and think they are scoring a special one-time deal.

    Attentional Bias

    Similar to anchoring bias, this type of bias is characterized by the tendency to disregard other details due to the over-emphasis on particular bits of information. However, in attentional bias, a person will focus on several different aspects of important information, and disregard some key factors in the process.

    Andrew signs up for a trip he saw while scrolling through Instagram. The ad explains that the first 100 entries will get to go on a week-long trip to the Bahamas. Unfortunately, Andrew failed to acknowledge some of the other details of the trip due to attentional bias. Because of his excitement and the short time frame to submit his entry, Andrew did not account for the detail mentioning the 40 hours of volunteer work he would have to complete on this trip.

    Examples of Bias in Psychology

    There are several famous psychological studies surrounding the topic of bias in society and group behavior; however, there are also many instances where bias has affected the legitimacy of certain studies themselves.

    Confirmation Bias

    Confirmation bias is one type of unconscious bias that consistently presents conflict within research without the right precautions. This bias is the error presented when someone uses support and evidence surrounding an outcome that only supports their previous beliefs, while disregarding any conflicting evidence. In psychological research, this can be a significant problem, as it is indicative of a failure to maintain objectivity and empiricism in a study.

    One obvious example of confirmation bias occurs every day. When people watch news channels exclusively associated with their own political views, they are participating in confirmation bias. By choosing to only watch a news broadcast that provides supportive information to their political values, they are ignoring any opposing ideas that contradict their previous beliefs.

    Availability Heuristic

    This category of bias demonstrates the propensity many people have to rely too heavily on information stored in their memory that is easier to retrieve. In doing so, one will oftentimes leave out substantial information needed for judgment. Another issue with the availability heuristic is that memory is sometimes deemed unreliable due to a number of factors.

    One important display of the availability heuristic is seen in eyewitness testimonies. Contrary to popular belief, eyewitnesses are usually extremely unreliable in investigations. Many eyewitness testimonies often fall victim to the availability heuristic; they overestimate their ability to recall important events from their own memory.

    Bias - Key takeaways

    • A bias is defined as a preference, opinion, or inclination in support of or in opposition to a concept, person, or result.
    • Conscious biases often feature intentional behaviors and expressions that adhere to prejudices, opinions, and judgmental attitudes.
    • Unconscious biases often go unnoticed, and these biases can influence several facets of your life.
    • Actor-observer bias describes the tendency we have to attribute our behaviors and actions to factors outside of our own control.
    • Anchoring bias is the inclination one has to rely too heavily on initial impressions.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Bias

    How to identify your own biases?

    Identify the differences between biases and practice mindfulness.

    What is anchoring bias in psychology?

    The common inclination one has to rely too heavily on initial impressions and information.

    What is attentional bias in psychology?

    Anchoring bias is characterized by the tendency to disregard other details due to the over-emphasis on particular bits of information.

    What is confirmation bias in psychology?

    The error presented when someone uses support and evidence surrounding an outcome that only supports their previous beliefs while disregarding any conflicting evidence. 

    What does bias mean?

    The basic meaning of a bias is the tendency to oppose or support an idea, person, or concept over another without maintaining objectivity. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    True or false. There is some objectivity maintained in a person's bias.

    True or false. People operate under biases all the time.

    The difference between explicit and implicit bias is that:

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