Unconscious Bias


Unconscious Bias

We all have biases. Knowing this, we can create policies, systems, practices and cultures which minimize the negative influence these biases have on the careers of women and minorities in the professoriate.

Unconscious biases may manifest themselves during faculty recruitment and interviewing. Unspoken and unintentional negative stereotypes may influence evaluation periods for tenure and promotion from teaching and how students rate professors to how letters of reference are written and interpreted. If left unchecked, ultimately the strategic goals of departments and universities can be undermined. The resources on this page will help increase our ability to discuss these unconscious biases and minimize the impact they can have on careers and institutions.

Being aware of the following biases and their definitions can help those in interviewer (or evaluator) roles avoid making snap judgments or inappropriate decisions.

  • First impressions – making decisions on this basis
  • Contrast effect – comparing applicant to the candidate previously before them
  • Negative information– weighing negative information higher than positive to screen out candidate
  • Halo/Horn effect– allowing one strong point that interviewer values highly to overshadow all other information; when this works in the candidate’s favor it is the halo effect; when it works in the opposite direction, it is called the horn effect
  • Similar to me effect – rating those who are like the interviewer higher than those who are least like the interviewer
  • Cultural noise – failing to distinguish between responses of candidate that are socially acceptable rather than factual; candidate will give responses that are politically correct but not revealing
  • Affect bias – if the candidate appears to like the interviewer, then that interviewer rates the candidate higher
  • Physical characteristics – the more attractive the candidate is, the higher the candidate's rating
  • Stereotype threat -being at risk of confirming, as self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about one's group (Steele & Aronson, 1995) Understand stereotype threat and how to reduce it

Suggestions on Ways to Eliminate Bias in Interview Situations
Set criteria in advance
Identify questions in advance; tie questions to criteria
Use the same interviewers during the process
Ask the same questions of all candidates
Develop a consistent interview agenda for all candidates
Educate interviewers on position, process and questions
Use standard rating sheets
Conduct reference checks consistently, and complete by the same person

ADVANCE also has other Materials directly related to recruitment.

Other Resources on understanding and reducing the impact of Bias
Stereotype Threat: Research-based suggestions for reducing the negative consequences of stereotyping on performance.
- Project Implicit, the Harvard site where you can take the Implicit Association Tests. There is also aProject Implicit information site
-Rising Above Cognitive Errors, JoAnn Moody
Cognitive Errors and Unintended Biases: A Very Quick Review JoAnne Moody

-Read the 2015 White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Statement about Implicit Bias, by Jo Handelsman and Natasha Sakraney

Presentations about Cognitive Bias.