Unconscious Bias: How Our Unconscious Mind Shapes Our Decisions

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As human beings, we like to think of ourselves as unbiased individuals making objective decisions based on facts and evidence. However, our brains are complex organs that are subject to a variety of influences, including unconscious biases. These biases are automatic patterns of thought that are formed over time and can have a significant impact on our perception of others and the world around us.

What types of unconscious biases exist?

Confirmation Bias

One common form of unconscious bias is confirmation bias. This is when we look for, interpret or remember information in a way that confirms what we already believe, and ignore or dismiss information that contradicts our beliefs. For example, if we believe that a certain political party is bad, we might only seek out news stories that reflect badly on that party, while disregarding positive stories.


Another form of bias is stereotyping. This is when we judge someone based on our perception of their group, rather than on their individual attributes, behavior and personality. For example, we might assume that all lawyers are arrogant, or that all mothers are nurturing.

Halo Effect

The halo effect is a third form of unconscious bias that can impact our decision-making. This is when we form a positive impression of someone based on one outstanding trait or quality, and then judge them favorably in all other areas. For instance, if we meet someone who is very attractive, we might imagine that they are also smart, kind and funny, even though we have no evidence to support those conclusions.

Anchoring Bias

Anchoring bias occurs when we rely too heavily on the first piece of information encountered when making decisions, even if it’s not necessarily the most relevant or important. For example, if we see a car advertised at a high price, we may assume that it is a luxury model, even if it is actually a basic model with a high mark-up.

Availability Heuristic

The availability heuristic is another type of bias that can impact our thinking. This is when we overestimate the likelihood of events that are easier to recall or imagine, such as rare but highly publicized occurrences. For instance, if we hear a lot about shark attacks in the news, we might be more afraid of swimming in the ocean, even though the probability of being attacked by a shark is very low.

Implicit Bias

Implicit bias is a final form of unconscious bias that is particularly insidious because it operates at a deep level that is often outside our conscious awareness. These are unconscious attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions and decisions in an automatic way, without our intentional awareness. For example, we might have implicit biases around race, gender, age or sexual orientation that affect our interactions and evaluations of others, without us even being aware of it.

How to overcome unconscious biases?

Overcoming unconscious biases is not an easy task as it requires a conscious effort to change our automatic thought patterns that have formed over time. However, there are some strategies that can help us to become more aware of our biases and work to reduce their impact on our decision-making process:

  1. Educate yourself: Learn about different cultures, religions, lifestyles, and perspectives. Read books, watch documentaries or listen to podcasts to gain a better understanding of the world around you. This will help you to expand your knowledge and understanding and reduce the influence of stereotypes.

  2. Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present and aware in the current moment. By practicing mindfulness, we can become more aware of our thoughts and emotions while detaching ourselves from them, allowing us to overcome our unconscious biases.

  3. Develop empathy: Empathy is the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and see things from their perspective. By developing empathy, we can better understand the experiences of others, and avoid relying on stereotypes or assumptions.

  4. Challenge your biases: Whenever we catch ourselves making snap judgments or assumptions, it’s important to pause and ask ourselves if these judgments are based on evidence or if they are influenced by our biases. By challenging our biases, we can become more objective and make more thoughtful decisions.

  5. Seek out diverse perspectives: By seeking out information from diverse sources, we can broaden our understanding of different perspectives and reduce the influence of stereotypes. This might include attending events, having discussions with individuals from different backgrounds or reading articles and books from different perspectives.

  6. Make supporting data available: In our personal and professional lives, it’s important to make supporting data available and transparent to decision-makers. This will reduce the importance of unconscious beliefs, and let everyone evaluate problems from the viewpoint of facts.


Understanding and recognizing unconscious biases is an important step towards minimizing their impact on our decision-making. We can work to challenge our assumptions, seek out diverse perspectives and actively counteract our biases by intentionally considering alternative viewpoints. By being aware of our own biases and actively working to mitigate them, we can become more objective and fair-minded individuals, better equipped to make sound decisions in all areas of our life.

In conclusion, unconscious biases are automatic patterns of thought that exist at a deeper level of our psyche outside of our control. These biases often lead to inaccurate assessments and decisions that can have harmful outcomes. To prevent this, we need to become more aware of our unconscious biases and work to challenge them when we encounter them which will help us become more objective and fair-minded individuals.

photo from Anthony Tori

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