“We are far more liable to catch the vices than the virtues of our associates.”
It’s human nature to notice the negative, it’s a concept known as negativity dominance to psychologists. This helps explain why, for instance, when we receive a performance evaluation, we sometimes tend to focus on the negative aspects and ignore the positive aspects. In a similar way, all of us have our own biases, we learn them at a young age and many are intertwined with our values and beliefs. On the plus side, many biases are quite useful, they help us to navigate our worlds and deal with the massive amount of information we receive, thereby influencing the decisions we make. On the downside, biases cause us problems when they have a negative impact on our relationships, in the way we process information or the decisions we make.
So how do we control or negate those biases that we naturally tend to have. It’s not simple, however, what we do know is that once we are aware of potential biases we are able to make informed decisions. The key thing is to begin to understand where they come from, what do they mean, how do they impact our relationships, our decisions etc. Developing an understanding of them and raising them into our conscious awareness allows us to then make conscious choices on how to act on them.
If you are interested in exploring your own biases, Implicit association tests are one way of identifying what biases we may have. Harvard has been running studies on implicit association for the better part of a decade and much of this research has informed work being done on decision-making and diversity issues. At the moment the tests are limited to a few categories, however they begin to give you an understanding of how bias may subtly influence us.
To begin understanding what your biases you may have, take an Implicit Association test here. And give me a shout if you want to understand more about how to counter them or use them to your advantage.