Let’s learn about bias

We all prefer one thing, group or person over another — even if we don’t think we do

By Bethany Brookshire

June 3, 2020 at 12:00 pm

Many people would like to believe that they treat all people equally. But often that simply isn’t true. People can be biased — preferring one group of individuals over another. Many times, that bias is implicit — meaning the people who are biased don’t know they are.

See all the entries from our Let’s Learn About series

Sometimes a bias can be innocent. Maybe you prefer the color blue over the color red. That’s okay. Even bedbugs have favorite colors.

When bias is in favor of one group of people over another, though, it can lead to great harm. Some biases, such as racism and sexism, can even impact someone’s physical health and increase signs of depression. Many of these biases arise out of stereotypes — simplified beliefs that may not be true. But biases can be changed, with learning and understanding and listening.

Want to know more? We’ve got some stories to get you started:

Think you’re not biased? Think again: Everyone has unconscious biases about certain social groups — but there are ways to limit them (6/22/2017) Readability: 7.8

Racism hurts: Science probes racism and what people can do to fight it (12/6/2016) Readability: 6.9

Game may help rid people of biases they didn’t know they had: A teen designed a game to help people see different points of view (5/15/2019) Readability: 6.8

Explore more:

Scientists Say: Stereotype

Explainer: Five things you can do about racism 

Fact checking: How to think like a journalist

Calling scientists of all colors

Heartbeat can affect racial perception of threat

Racial discrimination may aggravate asthma, study finds

Word Find 

Think you’re not biased? Everyone has biases. You can find out about some of yours by taking an implicit bias test from Harvard University.

Power Words

More About Power Words

asthma: A disease affecting the body’s airways, which are the tubes through which animals breathe. Asthma obstructs these airways through swelling, the production of too much mucus or a tightening of the tubes. As a result, the body can expand to breathe in air, but loses the ability to exhale appropriately. The most common cause of asthma is an allergy. Asthma is a leading cause of hospitalization and the top chronic disease responsible for kids missing school.

bias: The tendency to hold a particular perspective or preference that favors some thing, some group or some choice. Scientists often “blind” subjects to the details of a test (don’t tell them what it is) so that their biases will not affect the results.

depression: (in medicine) A mental illness characterized by persistent sadness and apathy. Although these feelings can be triggered by events, such as the death of a loved one or the move to a new city, that isn’t typically considered an “illness” — unless the symptoms are prolonged and harm an individual’s ability to perform normal daily tasks (such as working, sleeping or interacting with others).

discrimination: (in social science) An attitude of prejudice again people or things based on a bias about one or more of their attributes (such as race, sex, religion or age). It is not based on the actions of an individual but instead based on yet-unfounded expectations that are being applied broadly to a whole group.

implicit bias: To unknowingly hold a particular perspective or preference that favors some thing, some group or some choice — or, conversely, holds some unrecognized prejudice against it.

perception: The state of being aware of something — or the process of becoming aware of something — through use of the senses.

physical: (adj.) A term for things that exist in the real world, as opposed to in memories or the imagination. It can also refer to properties of materials that are due to their size and non-chemical interactions (such as when one block slams with force into another).

social: (adj.) Relating to gatherings of people; a term for animals (or people) that prefer to exist in groups. (noun) A gathering of people, for instance those who belong to a club or other organization, for the purpose of enjoying each other’s company.

stereotype: A widely held view or explanation for something, which often may be wrong because it has been overly simplified.

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