Bias is a prejudice for or against something or someone in a way that is generally considered unfair. Bias can be harmful in everyday life. While everyone has opinions and preferences, and these can be considered personal biases, in common use, bias comes into effect when those opinions unfairly affect an outcome or present an incomplete picture of a situation. It’s important to learn how to recognize bias in different everyday situations so that we can accurately assess information and identify any biases that might be misleading or even harmful.
Some specific kinds of bias are common enough that they’ve been identified and named. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of these common examples of bias. They are easy to find in real life, so once you understand each of these types of bias, you’ll be able to recognize them when you watch TV shows, read news articles, hear a friend or family member say something, or check yourself to make sure that you see things clearly.
Confirmation bias is one of the most common examples of bias, and it’s one that we all should be aware of. We all tend to prefer information and ideas that confirm the things we already believe. If we’re looking for information about a subject on which we’ve already formed an opinion, we’ll be drawn to sources that back up our opinion rather than sources that support a differing opinion. When we do encounter a source that disagrees, we tend to ignore it or reduce its significance in our minds. There is always more than one side to a story, so it’s important to seek out all sides to properly understand it. Let’s take a look at some confirmation bias examples.
Statistics have consistently shown that far more sexual assaults go unreported than false reports are made. However, people who believe that false accusations are common will ignore people’s personal accounts of assaults that they did not report to the police while amplifying any story they find about a false or possibly false report, and then assume that any report is likely to be false, even though this is not borne out by the statistics. This is a situation where this confirmation bias can even lead to an environment in which people are less likely to report an assault for fear of being accused of making a false report.
Some people claim that Facebook provides a great confirmation bias example. The social media site’s algorithms pay attention to everything we click on as we scroll through our news feed, which posts we like, comment on and share, and then Facebook shows us more of the same. This feeds into our natural tendency to seek out information that supports our own views. Interest is good as long as it does not become one of those types of bias.
This example of bias is another one that is easy to fall into without noticing. We tend to judge people’s actions less harshly when those people are members of our own groups than when we view those people as outsiders. It’s a natural desire to protect one’s own, whether it’s family, friends, or a larger cultural group. But this can lead to unfair judgments in both directions, accepting some people and denouncing others for the same actions.
A classic in-group bias example is the way people think about members of their own political party. Even when there is evidence of poor behavior by a politician, supporters will often dismiss it or downplay its seriousness, while emphasizing similar negative behavior from the opposition.
High school is another in-group bias example. Jocks, nerds, band geeks, chess club, cheerleaders… the preferential behavior is clear. While often it can look like members of a group are acting out of dislike for those who are not in the group, in-group bias actually has more to do with protecting and supporting the group’s own members. With this natural tendency to favor the in-group, viewing them as “good,” it’s easy for us then to see others as “bad” in comparison.
This becomes very clear with the examples of bias in sports fans. If you’re an avid follower of a particular team, you’ve probably experienced annoyance when you see someone displaying their love for your team’s rival. If you think about it objectively, you might have a lot in common—you’re both fans of the same sport, after all!! But instead, because they identify with a rival team, you feel negatively toward them.
The real-world implications of in-group bias are everything from school bullying to harsh sentences for non-violent crimes, and on a larger scale, wars between religious, ethnic, and racial groups. Remembering these examples of bias can help us think more critically and clearly.
Hindsight bias is also known as the idea that “I knew it all along.” If we correctly make a prediction or even have a vague idea of a likely outcome, we view that prediction as being stronger than it actually was. Essentially, we believe that events are more predictable than they really are. You may be convinced that you knew your team was going to lose, even though you actually didn’t feel that way before the game started. A similar example of bias is when after an election, people often feel like they saw those results coming, even if they’d voiced completely different opinions before the election.
Hindsight bias can influence us in a variety of ways. Sometimes it’s as simple as blaming ourselves for an accident because in retrospect we imagine that we saw it coming. You may say “Oh, I knew that would happen!”, and then feel guilty for not responding appropriately to something that you “knew”, even though that outcome wasn’t really probable. There’s no need to beat ourselves up for these kinds of accidents, but we do because we imagine that events are easier to predict than they really are. The risk each of us is ready to take can be very different, of course.
Our hindsight bias can also influence our future behavior in a negative way. The following bias example often happens when we study something new. When we hear or read some new information and it makes sense then we think “Oh yes, that’s obvious, I know that.” Once we get into this mindset, where we feel like we already understand the new material, we may end up not really paying attention to something important. Students may think they already have a grasp on the material and not study for the test. If someone is teaching you how to do a new task, by assuming you already understand the techniques they’re demonstrating, you might miss some helpful details, and you’ll lose out on the chance to learn from their expertise. This is an example of bias that can easily affect many of us in our daily lives.
The Dunning-Kruger effect
This specific example of bias has gained recognition recently. You’ll find people bringing it up when they see a self-proclaimed expert on social media explaining something poorly. The Dunning-Kruger effect refers to someone with a low level of knowledge in a particular area greatly overestimating their knowledge or skill.
Someone experiencing this example of bias doesn’t know what they don’t know. They’re confident in their abilities, but their mistakes go unnoticed because they don’t have enough knowledge to recognize them. For example, you might see the Dunning-Kruger effect when someone thinks they’re a great writer, using fancy words and turns of phrase, but using them incorrectly.
If you’re convinced you know what you’re talking about, stop for a second and think about how you know it. Are you working on assumptions and blindly forging ahead? If so, your situation may be an example of the Dunning-Kruger effect. An interesting aspect of this form of bias is that once you know you’re experiencing it, you’re well on your way to overcome it because now you know what you don’t know.
Hopefully, these examples of bias will help you recognize bias in things you read, hear, and even think. While we all have our opinions and points of view, understanding when they verge into bias is useful for clarifying our own thinking as well as understanding where other people are coming from. There are many other types of biases, so if you find this topic interesting, try to learn as much as possible about recognizing your own biases and finding your ways to eliminate them!