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You're More Biased Than You Think

Posted on by Brandon Klein

Even the most open-minded person harbors a lot of unconscious biases. Here's how to start recognizing and eliminating them.

Every day we make countless decisions without realizing it. Researchers call this "unconscious bias." It's happening right now as you read this.

You're faced with around 11 million pieces of information at any given moment, according to Timothy Wilson, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and author of the book Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious. The brain can only process about 40 of those bits of information and so it creates shortcuts and uses past knowledge to make assumptions.

How and why our brains choose the way they do has been generating lots of conversation at Google, which recently announced a workshop focused on unconscious biases. Sure, studying the unconscious decisions we make can be critical when it comes to designing products or software people use, but more importantly, it's critical when trying to uncover precisely what's wrong with our workplace today.

"We are so powerfully guided by the things we expect to be true in the world," says Brian Welle, director of people analytics at Google, in a video promoting the initiative.

This initiative is clearly strategically timed given that Google and other Silicon Valley tech companies have come under fire recently for the lack of diversity in their ranks. Still, challenging unconscious biases is one attempt at making hiring managers aware of the hidden preferences they bring to decision making—ones that stand in the way to hiring the best people for the job.