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Biases in academia and education

Distorted perception due to stereotypes

Bias describes partiality, prejudice or preconception, and refers to the subjective distortion of observation, memory and opinion. Biases initially affect all people, because thinking, perception and memory are fundamentally influenced by certain preconceived basic assumptions.

In this sense, biases help to structure our daily flood of information and make perception, memory and thought processes more effective. They help to make everyday decisions, develop routines and support a smooth daily routine. However, they also lead to wrong conclusions and distorted perception. Our brains make use of these stereotypical functions, especially in stressful situations, when we are anxious or under time pressure. In these moments, cognitive processes have to run quickly, effectively and economically. Routine action sequences of everyday life also favor biases because they are merely reeled off and not require any special effort on the brain.

These automatic recourse to existing stereotypes, prejudices or empirical values can be hindering when interacting with other people and lead to situations not being perceived and evaluated objectively. This should be avoided, especially in science and education, as it distorts examination or evaluation situations as well as interpersonal interaction or behavior toward minorities or other social groups.


The most common biases in academia

Cognitive biases are systematically erroneous tendencies in perceiving, remembering, thinking, and judging.  Scientific performance is evaluated differently depending on gender-related stereotypes. These include, among other things, the questioning of independence/self-performance, the inclusion of informal information, and the evaluation of women on the basis of their current position/institution instead of their qualifications/performance.

Implicit biases, or implicit stereotypes, define biases or the unconscious attribution of certain characteristics to a person. Implicit stereotypes are shaped by experience and based on learned associations between certain characteristics and social categories.

Interviewer bias shows that the results of oral interviews are influenced or distorted by the interviewers. This can happen unconsciously (through appearance, manner of speaking, and recording behavior) or consciously (through question wording such as leading questions, cues to answer, etc.). In addition, a variety of factors influence the behavior of all participants (age, academic position, gender, personality traits, etc.) and make neutrality difficult.

Confirmation bias works through selective perception. People absorb information more easily if it fits into their preconceived world view. Contrary or contradictory information and facts are often ignored.

Authority bias refers to statements that tend to carry particular weight because they come from an authority. In these cases, a high degree of accuracy is attributed to opinions from authorities, such as experts or superiors, so that these opinions influence one's own.

Availability bias refers to the misjudgment of risks and opportunities defined by one's own experience. It usually occurs when circumstances are to be assessed for which no precise and comprehensive information or data is available. In the absence of such information or data, people rely on their own experience or knowledge, which, however, is by no means objective or representative.

Ingroup bias refers to the tendency to favor members of a group over outsiders. Members of one's own group are viewed most sympathetically. In contrast, people who apparently do not belong to any group are perceived most unsympathetically.

Projection bias refers to the projection of one's own views onto other people. Most people subconsciously assume that their opinions and attitudes are identical to those of the majority. Opposing opinions are thus basically perceived as marginal.

Other common distortion effects

According to the Halo or Horn effect, known characteristics are inferred to unknown characteristics. Whoever has positive/negative characteristic A, must also have positive/negative characteristic B. The first impression overshadows the situation.

Homosocial cooptation refers to the fact that people prefer to surround themselves with like-minded people. Perception and evaluation of others is not only based on professional criteria, but also on social similarity and commonalities, which are usually noticeable at first glance. People with whom there are similarities appear more likeable.

Contrast effect refers to a phenomenon that occurs in evaluation situations: Person B is evaluated as 'average good', but immediately after person A, who is evaluated as 'excellent'. Due to the direct comparison, B is evaluated worse than 'average good' in this case.

Focused attention occurs in particular during stress and in connection with biases. Only certain characteristics of the candidates are perceived, for example if the candidate does not correspond to an expectation/role image/stereotype.

Framing is related to the framework in which a piece of information is packaged. If positive characteristics or facts are emphasized, people react differently than if negative aspects are emphasized. Framing means providing a certain perspective that other people adopt when they receive the information.

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