Bias Reduction: Methods & Effects

Instructor: Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 15 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

Reducing bias is imperative for a just society. This lesson reviews multiple methods of bias reduction and the effects those methods have on the individual.

Are You Biased?

Have you ever been asked if you are a dog person or a cat person? This seems like a harmless question, but it shows one interesting fact: we are all biased to some degree. When you prefer one thing over another thing (like dogs over cats), it shows you have a bias.

Bias is simply a preference or inclination towards (or against) something. When a person's bias is centered on types of food or pets, the bias is usually just an opinion with little social consequence. However, when a person's bias is against particular societal groups, major issues can occur.

Everyone is biased in some way, but these biases are often implicit or unconscious. Many researchers have studied the Law of Attraction, which states that humans are naturally attracted to others who are similar in nature. The similarities can be in appearance, but the effect is even stronger when the similarities relate to strongly held opinions and/or moral convictions. This draw toward those who are like us can lead to an aversion away from those who are dissimilar to us.

How It Hurts

So, if everyone is at least a little bit biased, does it really matter? The answer is yes. When those biases (conscious or unconscious) influence decisions in society or our interactions with others, it is cause for major concern.

Consider employers who allow their personal biases to influence hiring and promotion decisions; this is unfair (and most likely illegal). Furthermore, from a personal and world-wide communal perspective, if everyone allowed personal biases to control their societal interactions, the world would be filled with swatches of similarity and no diversity anywhere. It is important to both identify and work to consciously reduce personal bias.

Our biases decide our paths.
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Methods to Reduce Bias

There are many methods you can use to reduce your level of bias in your interactions and decision making processes. You may be thinking, ''If my biases are unconscious, how can I fix something I don't even know I have?'' This is a great question; it leads perfectly into the first method: identify your biases.

Identify

The first step to reducing biases is to accept that you have them and consciously work to identify them. This process could take many forms. You could take online tests designed to reveal implicit bias. Making a list of weekly activities to identify if and in what situations your behavior changes (such as getting off the bus early when a large group of a specific ethnic group gets on) is another way to help you see your implicit bias.

It is also a good idea to understand that humans tend to have fundamental attribution error, in which they vilify the character of a person instead of attributing poor behavior to environmental circumstances. Taking these actions moves implicit biases to the light of acknowledgement. Once you have acknowledged your bias vulnerabilities, you can work to change them.

Empathize

Empathy, or being able to perceive from another's point of view, is the next step. A great way to practice empathy is is to actively seek out information that contradicts your beliefs or feelings which you have identified as biases. For example, if you identified a preference for dogs over cats as a bias, then you could actively search for research that states cats are better than dogs. This search could include formal research or more casual discussions with others who hold an opposing view.

Seeking out contradicting information allows us to put ourselves into the position of opposing views and see situations from that perspective. This allows a willingness to accept environmental circumstances as reasons for behavior rather than a person's character.

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