Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

We Need to Come to Terms with Unconscious Bias

Credit: Seraphim Vector

Credit: Seraphim Vector

Training that increases our awareness of unconscious bias is useful but insufficient.

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In most situations, job interviewers try hard to be fair and treat all applicants equally. But they will probably be unaware of cognitive biases that can affect their interviewing behaviour and subsequent decision-making about the suitability of each applicant:

  • in-group bias, which causes us to be more comfortable with and favour people like us – people who share the same gender, background, experience, interests or personality type;
  • the halo effect, which causes us to allow the characteristics of others to affect our judgement of their other qualities (e.g. physically attractive people are more trustworthy);
  • anchoring bias, which causes us to rely too much on an irrelevant piece of data or belief (e.g. one of the interviewers had previously hired a women and it turned out badly);
  • minority pool bias, which causes interviewers to evaluate more negatively applicants who comprise a minority of the applicant pool;
  • confirmation bias, which causes us to notice data and information that conforms with our beliefs and to disregard any that doesn’t; and
  • availability bias, which causes us to grab readily available data to make decisions rather than use all available and relevant data, which will take longer to analyse.

In a common situation in engineering and science, a single female applicant among three or...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.