What is an unconscious bias?

Unconscious bias refers to a bias that we are unaware of. Implicit or unconscious bias happens by our brains making incredibly quick judgments and assessments of people and situations without us realising.

Unconscious bias

"Refers to a bias that we are unaware of and which happens outside of our control. It is a bias that happens automatically and is triggered by our brain making quick judgements and assessments of people and situations, influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences." - Equality Challenge Unit UK: Unconscious Bias in Higher Education Review 2013.

They can occur when we make fast judgements, are tired or under pressure. Often, they may be incompatible with our conscious values and considered actions.

Implicit bias

"Refers to the same area, but questions the level to which these biases are unconscious especially as we are being made increasingly aware of them. Once we know that biases are not always explicit, we are responsible for them. We all need to recognise and acknowledge our biases and find ways to mitigate their impact on our behaviour and decisions.” - Equality Challenge Unit UK: Unconscious Bias in Higher Education Review 2013.


  • Assuming an older person walking with a young child is the child’s grandparent
  • Belief that men will not have care-giving responsibilities
  • Expecting lower achievement from UTAS students
  • Assuming a person with a disability will take more time off work than a person without a disability.
  • Associating good/bad work ethic with particular ethnic groups

Socially dominant groups often have implicit bias or prejudice against subordinate groups, and individuals usually have a preference for members of a category to which they belong (1). These biases can be a significant factor in decision-making resulting in erroneous and harmful decisions.