Unconscious Bias

What is Unconscious Bias?

According to Teaching Tolerancea bias incident is conduct, speech, or expression motivated, in whole or in part, by bias or prejudice. 

The difference between a bias incident and hate crime is that a hate crime is a criminal act that is committed against property or a person where the offender’s bias motivates them to take action against one, or more, of a victim’s identities.

Bias Incidents can fall within two areas:  Explicit or Conscious and Implicit or Unconscious (National Center for Cultural Competence at Georgetown University). 

  • Explicit or Conscious bias, the individual is very clear about their feelings and attitudes, and related behaviors are conducted with intent. This type of bias is processed neurologically at a conscious level as declarative, semantic memory, and in words. Conscious bias in its extreme is characterized by overt negative behavior that can be expressed through physical and verbal harassment or through more subtle means such as exclusion.
  • Implicit or Unconscious bias operates outside of the person’s awareness and can be in direct contradiction to a person’s espoused beliefs and values. Unconscious bias automatically seeps into a person’s affect or behavior and is outside of the full awareness of that person.

Freud compared the mind to an iceberg.  The conscious mind being as being the tip of the iceberg (that above the water).  The preconscious mind is the part right below the water but can still be seen.  The unconscious mind is what is unseen beneath the water.

Bias, both unconscious and conscious, extend beyond ethnicity and race, even though those are the most discussed in society.  Bias may occur against an individual due to one’s: age, sexual orientation, gender identity, weight, gender, physical abilities, religion, and many other characteristics. 

According to bordercrossers, Unconscious biases refers to our attitudes, perceptions and stereotypes that influence our understanding, actions, and behavior when interacting with various identities. These preferences, which can be for or against groups, are developed through an exposure to stereotypes and misinformation informed by our upbringing and life experiences. Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness.

Researchers have found that unconscious bias is more widespread in society than conscious bias.  Researchers also concluded that unconscious bias may become more pronounced when the individual is under pressure or working on multiple tasks.

Many institutions, organizations, and businesses have become aware of conscious and unconscious bias within the organizational culture, which affects the success and community within the culture.

To increase knowledge of unconscious bias, Virginia Wesleyan University has an Unconscious Bias Workshop for the Marlin Community (Alumni, Faculty, Staff, and Students).  If you wish to request a workshop, please contact Dr. Brian Kurisky, Chief Diversity Officer, at bkurisky@vwu.edu to request a workhop for a group or to find out when the training will be offered next.