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Unconscious Bias: What exactly is it? 3 Simple Ways To Reduce It

Even if we don’t want to admit it, the majority of our choices are influenced by unconscious bias. Let’s explore what unconscious bias is and see how you can reduce yours.

How do you feel when a conversation about racism comes up? Tense? Awkward? Do you often hear people use the phrase “I don’t see colour”, as an escape from having conversations about race? Well the truth is, unfortunately the colour of someone’s skin plays an important role and will shape their experiences throughout life. You may find it uncomfortable talking about race, but this conversation is one that is necessary.

I’m sure by now we all know that the "monkey" comments and telling people to "go back to their country" are forms of overt racism. However, the subtle clutching your purse when you walk past a Black person and the “can I touch your hair?” comments are known as microaggressions and are forms of covert racism. Both overt and covert racism are two sides of the same coin. When you unravel the layers, we can see that it all comes down to your psychology, and one of the biggest culprits here is unconscious bias.

Unconscious bias (also known as implicit bias) are views held about an individual, formed from social stereotypes. These are outside of our conscious awareness and more often than not are opposing to the views we hold consciously. Although we may not know we hold them, they determine our behaviour and can have harmful consequences.

The brain’s ability to make generalisations based on our previous knowledge and past experiences makes everyone subject to bias especially when we need to make quick judgements. This can be a good thing. For example, being able to identify danger (seeing a car coming towards you and moving the other way). However, rash judgements based on an individual’s race are often inaccurate. These negative assumptions can lead to prejudice and discrimination.

Let’s take a moment to look at key research surrounding unconscious bias. A study by Correll et al (2002) found evidence of shooter bias with police officers, when the target was African-American. This means that police officers were more likely to shoot an unarmed black target compared to an unarmed white target. This also spans to the medical field as it has been found that, doctors spent less time and were less friendly in their approach with their African-American patients compared to their White patients (Sukhera & Watling, 2018). By spending less time with a patient, doctors have missed key information that could have saved someone's life.

Discrimination can have a negative effect on a person’s health causing them to be at increased risk of experiencing stress-related illnesses such as heart disease or nerve problems.

Reducing your own unconscious bias means you are less likely to discriminate against others and in turn less likely to contribute towards stress-related health difficulties.

"I am a racist, if I hold these unconscious biases?”, the short answer is no. However, your unconscious biases can lead to unintentional racism. The important part is identifying that these biases exist.

Good news, unconscious biases are not permanent. In fact, they are easily malleable. Here are three simple ways you can reduce your own unconscious bias:

1. Taking another perspective – If something you say affects someone negatively, be willing to address this and try to see things from the other person’s point of view.

2. Learning about other cultures – By doing this you will be more knowledgeable on the experiences of others and less likely to say things that may be considered offensive.

3. Try to avoid making split judgements – As discussed above, biases rely on quick decisions. By taking a moment longer, you allow your conscious awareness to make judgements on your behalf.

So, the next time you catch yourself making a quick decision, take a moment to pause and think. Analyse and assess. Ask yourself "is any validity in this judgement?". By acknowledging the possibility we hold biases, we can begin to have open conversations to start the process of unlearning. It may not happen overnight, but starting here you can make an impact on future generations. So one day we may be able to live in a world where everyone is treated fairly despite our differences.

- Words by Ronelle Bloomfield

Inside Out UK Team

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