Unconscious Bias, in a Nutshell

Unconscious Bias, in a Nutshell


Unconscious (or implicit) bias, or more formally known as implicit social cognition, refers to our favorable and unfavorable associations about, assessments of, and reactions to others that occur almost automatically, without even realizing it.



Implicit cognition is part of how our brains work: the thinking that happens essentially on autopilot versus the more deliberative, conscious thinking. Implicit cognition can help us quickly assess a situation to protect us from a hazard before we even have time to react on a conscious level.

But implicit cognition is what also causes us to make snap judgments based on pre-programed mental associations of which we're not even consciously aware. This can cause us to react to and behave in ways toward others based on unconscious associations about how someone looks, where they live, what they wear, how they talk, and any other number of factors.

These biases creep into our decision-making without our even realizing it. Likewise, they can unwittingly impact decisions within organizations in the areas of hiring and promotions, evaluations, compensation decisions, and career development, all without any negative intent on the part of an organization or the individuals within the organization.

For more on implicit bias, check out the research by the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Implicit Bias.




Brownstein, Michael, Implicit Bias, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Winter 2016 Edition, Edward N. Zalta (ed.) (online)

Staats, Cheryl, Kelly Capatosto, Robin A. Wright, & Victoria W. Jackson, State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review, Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, 2016 Edition.