Bias is an inclination or outlook to present or hold a partial perspective, often accompanied by a refusal to consider the possible merits of alternative points of view. Biases can be learned implicitly within cultural contexts. People may develop biases toward or against an individual, an ethnic group, a nation, a religion, a social class, a political party, theoretical paradigms and ideologies within academic domains, or a species.[Steinbock, Bonnie (1978). "Speciesism and the Idea of Equality". Philosophy. 53 (204): 247–256.]
Biased means one-sided, lacking a neutral viewpoint, or not having an open mind. Bias can come in many forms and is related to prejudice and intuition.["bias ...; prejudice", The New Merriam–Webster Dictionary, ISBN 0877799008]
In science and engineering, a bias is a systematic error. Statistical bias is an unfair sampling of a population, or to an estimation process that does not give accurate results on average.
[From Wikipedia, September 18, 2016]
Bias, we are told is clearly bad. It is to be avoided. Now of course bias is something other people have. We are all certain that we are all enlightened and it is something that we have managed to avoid in our mind and in our hearts.
The secret to an examined life is to be completely honest with yourself. To be willing to critically examine yourself and to accept whatever you find. Not to hide from yourself but to be willing to let whatever you are be brought to the surface in the light of your conscious mind.
To this end, let me demonstrate how you can detect the presence of bias…in yourself.
Consider this, whenever you feel negatively towards a person or a thing that’s a sign that you have bumped up against the presence of one of your biases.
Now, it is also true that whenever you feel positively towards a person or a thing that’s a sign that you have also bumped up and revealed one of your biases.
Most of your biases are unconscious ideas, thoughts, and associations that you had acquired from ‘Nurture’ and ‘Culture’, in other words your upbringing and experiences as a child growing up.
Remember I said that people are shaped by ideas, and that is how you acquire biases. Something happened to you, or someone important told you something, and you accepted that, and it became a shaping influence on you. It is mostly an unconscious event and presence within you. These events, experiences and ideas told to you become the foundation of your beliefs and personality. They become your biases, your ‘gut’, your ‘instincts’, your ‘intuition’. All those terms are synonymous for the ideas and events that shaped your foundational beliefs.
The question is not, “Does someone have a bias?” rather the question should be “To what extent is their decisions based on and influences by these biases?”
These biases can be a help or a hindrance. The test is a pragmatic one. Is the outcome what you consciously want?
An example of bias that can prove to be useful is to consider how to take a multiple choice or truth-or-false exam. Here your biases are your best guides. As in all situations with limited time to respond, you need to access your memory quickly and effectively. In this situation of the exam taking, you simply read the question so that you understand what is being asked and then read the choices. Whichever choice answer feels best is the one you go with. You should not stop to think consciously and dwell on your choice; you simply go with ‘your gut’ and do not look back. This does not guarantee you will have selected the correct answer. It will only guarantee you will recall your stored memories. If you failed to study effectively or adequately, all you will access is inadequate data. Your unconscious mind works quicker than your conscious mind, and to access it, you rely on feelings. This is the presence of your biases that you have acquired through your prior studies.
Another example of a bias at work is the example of who you would choose as your friend or love interests. If you keep getting involved with abusive or addictive people then this demonstrates a bias that is unconsciously guiding you in the selections of these relationships. Your bias is simply fulfilling what you had learned from your dysfunctional past interactions. Possibly learned from growing up with abusive or addictive parents. That became a baseline of what seem to you, as child, as ‘normal’.
If you find that you repeatedly involve yourself in such dysfunctional relationships then you need to pay attention to your feelings and be critical of them. To consider how and why you required these feelings, and then put in the effort to try and change.
To overcome a bias is possible but it is difficult and requires conscious, deliberate, and sustained effort. The first step is to admit it is there. Actually in order to change, what you are doing is replacing an old bias with a new one.
‘We cannot teach people to withhold judgment; judgments are embedded in the way we view objects. I do not see a “tree”; I see a pleasant or an ugly tree. It is not possible without great, paralyzing effort to strip those small values we attach to matters. Likewise, it is not possible to hold a situation in one’s head without some element of bias. Something our dear human nature makes us want to believe; so what?’
From Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan: The impact of the Highly Improbable. Random House, 2007, p. 202