What’s Unconscious Bias? (+ Examples)

September 3, 2023

11 min read

Everyone has unconscious bias and can work to improve.

Unconscious bias is extremely common, more so that conscious, explicit bias. Even so, it can be hard to recognize and work on your own preconceived notions and biases. 

Everyone can work on their unconscious bias. We’ll explain what this type of bias is, how it manifests, and ways in which you can work on it on both an individual and large-scale level. 

Everything You Should Know About Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias — also called implicit associations — is a type of bias toward other people outside of your own understanding or consciousness. People with unconscious bias have certain social stereotypes about groups of people.

As a refresher, bias refers to holding discriminatory beliefs about a person or a group of people. For example, identity groups are often targets of bigotry. 

Some common communities that face bias include:

  • Minority racial groups and people of color
  • The LGBTQ community, especially in terms of gender and sexual orientation 
  • People with various religious groups that are often stereotyped 
  • The disabled community (including people with invisible disabilities) 
  • People with body differences, such as a larger body size
  • Older and younger generations, especially in the workplace (ageism)

There are two main types of bias. One is unconscious bias or implicit bias. The other is conscious bias or explicit bias. 

With conscious bias, the person is fully aware of their bigotry and its effects, as opposed to unconscious bias, where the person doesn’t fully understand their prejudices. 

Who has this kind of bias?

Everyone has unconscious bias. In fact, research shows that most unconscious prejudices start early in life, typically beginning during childhood. As the person grows up, these biases continue to grow and develop. 

It’s a human trait to categorize people into various identity or social groups, and having these biases is normal. 

Still, that doesn’t mean it’s harmless. 

How common is this type of bias?

Since everyone has some unconscious bias, it’s extremely common. That being said, it’s even more common than outright, conscious bigotry. 

What triggers it?

Although everyone develops this type of bias during their life, there are some situations that can trigger unconscious bias. Here’s an example. 

If you’re working under pressure, stressed, or multi-tasking, this can prompt unconscious assumptions or attitudes.

How do you identify this type of bias?

There are many ways to identify unconscious bias. One way is to surround yourself with diverse groups of people. You can also read up on identity groups that you’re not a part of and the concept of DEIB

However, taking an unconscious bias test can better identify biases that are below the surface that you’re not aware of (learn more about this below).

How Does Unconscious Bias Affect People?

Unconscious bias has a negative effect on people. These biases affect a person’s behavior toward others. 

For example, the impact of unconscious bias has been extensively studied, especially in areas like: 

  • Education departments
  • Health and healthcare space
  • Criminal justice system 

Unconscious Bias Examples

Unfortunately, there are tons of unconscious bias examples to consider when taking a look at your own internal prejudices and beliefs. 

Here are some common unconscious bias examples, including in the workplace and healthcare sphere.

Most common unconscious bias examples

Because it’s so common, chances are, you’ll recognize and even possibly be able to identify your own prejudices through these unconscious bias examples. Here are 17 types of unconscious bias examples to watch out for. 

1. Racial bias: This type of prejudice assigns stereotypes to people of different racial groups and backgrounds.

2. Gender bias: ​​Gender bias is a societal habit to discriminate based on preconceived notions or the historical discrimination of various genders. 

3. Affinity bias: This kind of bias — which is also referred to as similarity bias — is the habit of making connections with those who are similar to you in terms of their experiences, background, and interests. 

4. Confirmation bias: One of the most popular biases is confirmation bias, which is a type where you tend to come to conclusions about someone only based on your individual prejudices as opposed to honestly reviewing the situation.

5. Halo effect: When you have a tendency to place someone on a pedestal after you hear something remarkable about that person, this is called the halo effect. 

6. Attribution bias: When you judge someone’s behavior only based on past interactions, this is known as attribution bias.

7. Ageism: With ageism, people have preconceived notions about others solely based on their age. For example, some people believe younger generations (such as Gen Z) “don’t want to work” these days. On the contrary, others believe older generations (such as Baby Boomers) are extremely resistant to change and have trouble adjusting to the modern age, especially with technology.

8. Authority bias: This kind of bias is when people consider opinions or ideas more only because the person who suggested it is in an authority position.

9. Conformity bias: You might be more familiar with the term “peer pressure,” but both of these terms are essentially synonymous. With this type, regardless of your actual beliefs, you’re more likely to conform to fit in with the people around you. 

10. Horn effect: When you tend to see someone in a bad light after you figure out something negative or unsavory about them, this is called the horn effect.

11. Anchor bias: Also known as expectation anchor bias, this type refers to situations where people make decisions using one piece of information. 

12. Contrast effect: When you compare things that you’ve experienced and exaggerate one over the other, this is called the contrast effect. You might see one thing as being way better than the other (or much worse) instead of perceiving it normally.

13. Nonverbal bias: If you evaluate things like hand gestures or other types of body language and that informs your opinions or decisions, this is nonverbal bias. 

14. Beauty bias: Also referred to colloquially as “pretty privilege,” is when people believe that those who are more conventionally attractive are also more qualified, successful, and capable than those who aren’t. 

15. Height bias: This type is exactly what it sounds like: a bias toward short or tall people based on preconceived notions. 

16. Name bias: Name bias is extremely common. This refers to the habit of preferring people with particular names and judging people with other types of names. Usually, more “Western” or Anglo origin names are “preferred” whereas names originating for other regions are unfairly discriminated against.

17. Overconfidence bias: If you tend to be more confident in your abilities than you really should be, this is known as overconfidence bias. 

Unconscious bias in the workplace

In the workplace — no matter what industry — unconscious bias is common and ever-present. As such, many researchers have studied this type of bias in work environments. 

For example, one study on labor market discrimination found that resumes with “white-sounding names” got 50% more interview offers than resumes with “Black-sounding names.” 

In another more recent study, science faculty favored students who were men over women as a result of their gender biases. Researchers found that applicants for a lab manager role who were men were actually considered more hireable and capable. For applicants who were men, science faculty offered not only more mentoring, but also a larger starting salary.  

Unconscious bias in healthcare

Many groups face disparities in healthcare — namely people of color and LGBTQ folks. Researchers believe that unconscious bias might fuel some of these healthcare disparities. 

Healthcare providers like doctors and nurses have implicit biases that actually affect their understanding, decision-making, and ultimately, the care the patient receives. 

There have been dozens of studies about decision-making in healthcare and unconscious bias. Racial bias in particular is extremely common with healthcare professionals. Research shows that a provider’s beliefs about race affects their decision-making

Unconscious Bias Training

A great way to mitigate this type of bias in various spaces and on an individual level as well is unconscious bias training. Unconscious bias training is a resource you can use to raise awareness of this type of bias and how it’s unjustly connected to a person’s abilities or persona. 

The goal of the training is to ultimately eliminate bigotry toward friends, peers, clients, colleagues, and other people you might interact with on a daily basis. For example, in the workplace specifically, unconscious bias training can keep personal biases from affecting decisions related to hiring, terminating employment, and promotions.

However, research shows that unconscious bias training isn’t working as it should. Psychologist Patrick Forscher and his associates conducted a meta-analysis in 2019 of over 490 studies. In their analysis, which covered around 80,000 people, they discovered that people’s behavior didn’t change after the training. 

Albeit discouraging, unconscious bias training can definitely work. The key is to make sure it’s not a one-off training session. Instead, entities like universities and workplaces need to emphasize that it’s a life-long journey. 

A good unconscious bias training doesn’t just give examples of how biases can manifest — Instead, it teaches participants how to evaluate their prejudices, alter their behavior, and even keep up with and analyze their progress as they go. 

Instead of simply showing examples, unconscious bias training can provide attendees with information that disproves common stereotypes while also offering connections to people outside of an individual’s usual circle. 

True unconscious bias training is a lifelong effort that entities should continuously work on and encourage. 

Unconscious Bias Test

For people who want to work on their internal prejudices, there’s one unconscious bias test in particular worth checking out. 

The Implicit Association Test (IAT) is one of the most common, trusted unconscious bias tests out there. 

Researchers designed the IAT to identify and more easily recognize unconscious bias. This unconscious bias test is based on aspects like:

  • Gender
  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Sexual orientation

Project Implicit — a network of researchers, technicians, and labs across the University of Virginia, Harvard University, and the University of Washington — aided the development of the IAT as part of its mission to acknowledge and recognize internal stereotypes.

How does the unconscious bias test work?

This unconscious bias test works by examining various concepts and measuring how strong the resulting associations are. For example, people are tasked with placing words or images into categories on a computer. 

Researchers know that when two ideas are easily correlated, the individuals taking the test paired the words or images into a category quickly. However, two concepts that testers don’t envision as being associated would have a weak association. 

The IAT is an important way to measure unconscious bias because it looks specifically at a type of bias that lays under the surface level. 

For example, on the surface, you might think that all genders should be equally associated with, say, mathematics. However, your IAT results might show that you actually have automatic associations that you envision men as mathematicians more than women.

Ways to Avoid Unconscious Bias

Luckily, unconscious biases aren’t necessarily permanent. Once you’re aware, you can become more diligent and make sure you acknowledge and mitigate the negative effects of your biases. 

Experts suggest looking at unconscious bias on not only the individual level, but also on a higher societal level. 

Individual ways to avoid unconscious bias

In terms of how to avoid unconscious bias yourself, there are plenty of ways to get started recognizing and acknowledging these internal prejudices. 

Here are five easy ways to avoid unconscious bias on an individual level.

  1. Explore your own existing knowledge and self-awareness of bias. Take a deep dive into the concept of bias as a whole to explore what it is and how it affects behavior.
  2. Use inclusive language. Using inclusive language and continuously updating your vernacular is a great way to avoid this bias.
  3. Take an unconscious bias test like the IAT to evaluate and identify your own biases. This way, you can be specific in what you need to improve. 
  4. Surround yourself with a diverse group of friends, coworkers, and colleagues. Having discussions with people outside of your own identity or cultural group can help you begin to unpack biases and understand others.
  5. Internally acknowledge (or write down in a personal journal) biases that you have and how to challenge them. Writing them down gives you a safe space to process and worth through your personal biases.
  6. Keep in mind how common unconscious bias is. Knowing how prevalent it is on an individual level across society is important to continue the fight against bigotry.

Another way to avoid unconscious bias is through Yoodli, a free communication coach.

Yoodli can analyze your speech and speaking patters when you upload or record a video of yourself talking. Although Yoodli provides a plethora of helpful metrics — namely, speaking pace, word choice, and filler word usage — you can also actively work on your own unconscious bias.

To detect your unconscious bias, Yoodli evaluates a few metrics, such as monologuing, interruptions, and non-inclusive language.

For example, going on long monologues is a sign that you’re not listening or letting others participate in the conversation. When you interrupt other speakers, that’s another hint that you might not be letting other participants express themselves.

Yoodli will also flag any potentially non-inclusive language for you, too. That way, you can not only recognize what terms and phrases might be problematic, but you can also work to improve on that specifically.

With Yoodli, you can work on your unconscious bias in a completely safe space. Learn more below:

Nip your unconscious bias in the bud with Yoodli.

Societal ways to avoid unconscious bias

You can also avoid unconscious bias by using larger, more societal-scale strategies. 

Here are four methods to challenge unconscious bias at this level, especially for employers. 

  1. Host and attend unconscious bias training sessions or guided discussions to better understand the biases themselves and the ways to combat them. For example, you can host unconscious bias training at your workplace or university to minimize the harm caused in these spaces in particular. 
  2. At both university institutions and workplace environments, partner with diverse groups to create solid goals to eliminate stereotyping when hiring, mentoring, evaluating, and promoting individuals. This can give both universities and workplaces a roadmap to avoiding this type of bias.
  3. Normalize calling out and addressing bias at a team level (e.g., at your place of work or university). Having a positive team culture of checking biases can make all the difference.
  4. Be willing to hold yourself accountable at a team level. This goes for anyone on the team. If you’re in a position of power however, it’s even more crucial for you to acknowledge and mitigate your own biases in front of other people. 

The Bottom Line

If you have unconscious bias, don’t worry — it’s very normal and expected. Still, that doesn’t mean you should simply accept it. The best thing to do is accept it and begin your journey on unlearning these preconceived notions. 

Take it one day at a time and remember to continue educating yourself. 


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