Types of Unconscious Bias

Common types of unconscious bias and how they may influence our behavior

Resources Unconscious Bias

Research shows that we all have unconscious bias. And our actions, even if they’re unintentional, can potentially impact the experiences of our colleagues, clients and indeed anyone that we interact with. Our unconscious preferences and biases impact everything we do, say, think and feel. None of us are immune from it. But we all have an opportunity and responsibility to take action.

Research shows that there are certain types of unconscious bias that are particularly common in a business environment. Being familiar with and understanding what these are can help us recognize how we can mitigate the impact of our potential unconscious biases and preferences, and how to challenge non-inclusive behaviors.

Learn more about these common types of bias below:




Contrast Bias

This type of bias occurs when you assess two or more similar things and compare them with one another, rather than looking at each based on their own merits.

This type of bias occurs when you assess two or more similar things and compare them with one another, rather than looking at each based on their own merits.

Prototype Bias

The tendency to think more favorably of the person who most fits with your prototype of a particular role.

If someone has a prototype of what a ‘leader’ is they are more likely to favor leaders who display characteristics that match with this, regardless of actual performance. Or another example is if a leadership role has only ever been held by men, often the successor for that role is considered to be a ‘prototype’ male leader.

Halo/ Likeability Bias

Giving positive attributes to a person based on a first impression or a positive, past experience. It supports rapid, positively biased decisions. It can also cause you to be influenced by one previous positive action/behavior.

A sharply dressed professional might be judged to be more competent than a professional wearing a t-shirt.

Confirmation Bias 

When we make a judgment about another person, we subconsciously look for evidence to back up our own opinions of that person. We look to validate our assessment of a person and potentially miss contrary evidence. We may give less weighting to anything that counters our impression, or we may even dismiss it.

As a team leader, you have an initial preference towards one potential team member because of a high visibility project they previously worked on. Throughout the selection process you look for information to validate that this is the best team member for your project despite the merits of other potential team members.

Egocentric Bias

This occurs when people rely too heavily on their own point of view when they examine events in their life or when they try to see things from other people’s perspective.

Instead of really listening to the lived experience of a colleague or client, you use your own experience as the most significant power in making a decision.

Attribution Bias

How you perceive your actions and others. It stems from our brain’s flawed ability to assess the reasons for certain behaviors – particularly those that lead to success and failure.

When someone leaves work early and you attribute the behavior to the person’s personality traits (e.g., “Oh, he’s not dedicated to his work and is more interested in leisure activities”) rather than situational circumstances (e.g., “He may need to rush out to care for a sick child or elderly parent”).

Ingroup Bias

Ingroup bias, or ingroup favoritism, is a bias in which people tend to favor people who exist in similar groups as them. These groups could be based on gender, race, ethnicity, or a favorite sports team.

Having lunch with a group of people similar to you every day.

Authority Bias

Authority bias is the tendency to attribute greater credibility to the opinion of an authority figure (unrelated to its content) and be more influenced by that opinion.

An established leader in your business unit is presenting on a topic that he has limited experience in, but the audience takes what he says as being true simply because he is the leader.

Horns Bias

A form of cognitive bias that causes the perception of another to be influenced by a single negative trait.

An overweight colleague is perceived to be lazy whereas a colleague who runs marathons is perceived as highly motivated.

Recency Bias

Recency bias occurs when you’re influenced positively or negatively by the most recent experience you have had with someone, which colors your whole view of a person’s performance or capability.

A manager focuses too much on a mistake a team member recently made, rather than the great work he’s done all along and gives the team member a poor Snapshot as a result.

Fundamental Attribution Error

People over emphasizing personal characteristics and ignoring situational factors in judging others’ behavior.

You reprimand a “lazy employee” for being late to a meeting and then proceed to make an excuse for being late yourself that same day.

Affinity/ Similarity Bias

An unconscious tendency to have a preference for people like us. Decisions are biased towards people who share common beliefs and backgrounds.

Giving an opportunity to someone who reminds you of you.

Proximity Bias

Proximity bias refers to our tendency to give preferential treatment to those in our immediate vicinity.

Proximity bias manifests when we unconsciously favor those who are closest in space or time, for example; despite two team members having equal capabilities a manager might give advice or an opportunity to one over the other simply because one is working alongside them in the office while the other team member is working remotely at a given moment in time.

Actions we can all take to reduce the impact of unconscious bias in the workplace

Be aware

The first step in minimizing the impact of unconscious bias is being aware of what it is and how it can affect others. You have already started on this journey by reading this guide. Awareness begins to ‘tip’ our unconscious into the conscious where we can be more aware of the potential impact of our unconscious preferences and biases and taking part in the Inclusive Mindset learning path.

Take time to question yourself and others

To reduce the potential effects of unconscious bias, ask the following question: What evidence do I have to support this perspective/decision/opinion?

Create inclusive meeting practices

If you are managing a meeting, you can play a significant role in reducing the potential effects of unconscious bias, both within the meeting and in its outcomes.

  • Solicit the opinions of everyone at the meeting. Remember not to always draw upon the same people’s opinions consistently but equally do not discount their opinion on this basis.
  • Ensure the final decision is balanced and not influenced by the power a single individual may hold.
  • Be open to challenges from all parties by asking for counter opinions and examples.
  • Ask those who may be more junior or introverted explicitly for their opinion.
  • Call out behaviors such as people interrupting or talking over each other.


When reading about the different types of bias their descriptions and examples did you recognize any of them within your own past behaviors or from workplace or personal experiences?

Are there any particular unconscious biases that you feel are more common than others in your specific geographic region?

What actions will you take to try and reduce the impact of your unconscious preferences and biases going forward?

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