Skip main navigation

What is unconscious bias?

Certain situations can trigger your unconscious biases, which can appear when you’re stressed, tired or losing control in the classroom

There’s an aspect of your values, beliefs and attitudes system that helps you make decisions which is called the unconscious bias.

Bias is a tendency to either lean towards or against someone or something. These tendencies are influenced by your background, cultural environment and personal experience, and can either be something you’re conscious (explicit) or unconscious (implicit) of.

Unconscious thinking

An example of unconscious thinking you might do is driving, where you’re constantly making decisions in order to stay safe – from judging how close to get to the car in front, where to position the wheel, when to change gear, deciding if you’re too close to something and so on.

However, somehow at the same time you can carry on a conversation with your passenger. The decisions you make when driving are automatic and are unconscious choices for the most part.

This automatic thinking combined with your biases can cause you to typecast specific groups of people or an individual, even if it’s not factually correct and goes against your conscious views. This social categorisation is a quick automatic response our brains do to make sense of things quickly.

Unconscious bias triggers

Sometimes, without realising, certain situations can trigger your unconscious biases which can appear, for example, when you’re stressed, tired or losing control in the classroom.

By making quick judgements that you’re unaware of, you unconsciously make decisions that influence your behaviour — such as who you sit next to, who you pay more attention to, who you help more etc. Even people who don’t think they are being discriminatory will have an unconscious bias because this has been formed throughout their lifetime.

Examples of these biases in the classroom could be staff helping girls out more than boys, staff believing boys are more aggressive than girls, staff letting certain children answer questions while ignoring others etc.

“Be prepared for people to have preconceptions about your educational background because of your choice of employment” – Sarah Nimmey

Check your bias

Project Implicit is a research project conducted by a number of social scientists who are interested in implicit social cognition. The team have created a series of tests to enable individuals to check their bias.

Each test takes approximately five minutes to complete and you don’t have to give any personal details. However, it’s worth spending some time at the beginning to fully understand how to carry out the test effectively.

If you want to test your bias you can access the tests here. Note that the tests require access to a physical keyboard.

© University of Reading
This article is from the free online

Supporting Successful Learning in Primary School

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now