What is bias?

Every person has biases. Bias is your natural preferences and inclinations towards or against people, things, places, etc. Biases can be both positive and negative. For example, many parents are positively biased toward their children. Or a person can be negatively biased against something because of a bad experience.

Your biases can be conscious or unconscious. Conscious or explicit bias occurs at a conscious level, meaning we are aware we have it. Whereas, unconscious or implicit bias occurs outside our conscious thinking, meaning we are unaware we have it.

Let’s look at unconscious or implicit bias and how you can be unintentionally biased without realising it.


A deeper understanding of unconscious bias

The term unconscious or implicit bias refers to indirect expressions of prejudice or stereotyping (learn more about stereotypes in our course)


‘Unconscious bias is often unintentional and based on any aspect of a person’s social identity. Social identity comes from race, ethnicity, sexuality, nationality, and group categories’  

By Dr David Amodio


Your brain has two different spaces for processing information, the conscious mind, which deals with thoughts and decisions and the unconscious mind, which stores memories, experiences and trauma from our past. Our brain processes lots of information very quickly.


Pragya Agarwal says in her book SWAY…

Some studies show our brain is capable of processing 11 million pieces of information, but the conscious mind can only handle 40 – 50’.


Therefore, our brain groups people and situations quickly, and is a fight or flight response we innately have for survival.


Unconscious bias can affect our decision-making and causes us to take actions unconsciously, making it difficult to control because we are unaware of it.

We all have unconscious bias; there is no getting away from it because it is deep-rooted in our subconscious. Unconscious bias is built on a neurological level from the day we are born.

We are not born with unconscious bias; the good news is that it can be unlearned using specific techniques.


Conscious bias

Conscious or explicit bias occurs at a conscious level, meaning we’re aware that our bias may not always be fair.

Conscious bias becomes a problem when people are openly racist and discriminate against certain individuals and groups.

Racism and discrimination are an offence under the Equality Act 2010.


Something for you to think about… 

Do you knowingly discriminate against people? If so, have you ever questioned why you do this?

Many people openly discriminate yet have no idea why. Lots of discriminatory views come from within households and on media messages.


Your biases can be a problem for other people.

Bias can become a problem because it can cloud our judgements of people. Bias, prejudice and stereotyping can cause people to be treated unfairly and lead to discrimination. This can all happen without us being aware of what we are doing. This, in turn, can cause:

  • Unhappiness
  • Unfair treatment
  • Isolation
  • Exclusion from society
  • Missed opportunities.

Dental professionals have an important and influential role within our communities. Therefore, you are responsible for checking any hidden bias that may affect patients or other team members because your bias could impact someone else’s life.

From the minute a patient walks through the practice door, you are responsible for treating every patient with dignity and respect.

How you treat and engage with patients can either have positive or negative effects on:

  • Yours and the patient’s day ahead – we all know what it is like to be mistreated or met with irritation by someone in a customer or patient-facing role. It can be upsetting for both parties involved.
  • A patient’s overall mental health – you don’t know what that patient is going through on that particular day. So how you treat them could have a tangible impact on their mental well-being.
  • The reputation of the practice.

Remember these points apply to your bias and actions towards other team members too!


Final Thoughts

From a very young age, our minds absorb and form unconscious biases without realising them. Fortunately, with practice and effort, these subconscious tendencies can be unlearned through the intentional development of new habits. By proactively combating bias within us, we take a decisive step toward creating an equitable future for all!


If you would like to learn more about Conscious and Unconscious Bias visit our website to look at our verifiable CPD video.

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