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BEDI Resources

Definitions & Key Terms

Bias: A bias is a tendency, inclination, or prejudice toward or against something or someone. Some biases are positive and helpful—like choosing to only eat foods that are considered healthy or staying away from someone who has knowingly caused harm. But biases are often based on stereotypes, rather than actual knowledge of an individual or circumstance. Whether positive or negative, such cognitive shortcuts can result in prejudgments that lead to rash decisions or discriminatory practices.

Implicit Bias: “Explicit bias” refers to bias that we are aware of, while implicit bias (sometimes referred to as cognitive bias) is both naturally occurring and subconscious. We all have implicit biases, which makes them particularly important to address and control in our pursuit of equality. Implicit bias results from a combination of nature and nurture, meaning it is an outcome of our biological makeup and our social environment - especially the context we were raised in. 

A working definition of implicit bias is attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding and our actions in an unconscious way. Such generalizations result from cognitive processes, and the internalization of a lifetime of messages about people we recognize as being different than us.

Because it is mostly unconscious, implicit bias is extremely harmful. Perhaps most importantly, it is often so deep-rooted that it cannot be discovered or corrected through simple self-reflection. Diversity: Understanding and Navigating Discrimination in America

Microagressions: Brief and commonplace verbal, behavioral, or situational indignities that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative slights or insults, especially toward members of minority or oppressed groups. Microaggression may be intentional (e.g., calling a transgender person a “she-male”) or implicit (e.g., a White employee asking a Black colleague how he or she got a certain job, implying that the colleague may have obtained it through affirmative action or a quota system).

Three subtypes have been identified: microassaults, which are purposefully discriminatory actions (e.g., uttering a racial slur, displaying a swastika); microinsults, which are subtle snubs that devalue a person’s identity; and microinvalidations, which are unintentional exclusions or negations of an individual’s thoughts, feelings, or experiences. Research on microaggression is limited but shows that this form of bias can cause recipients to feel that they are abnormal, inferior, invisible, powerless, or untrustworthy.


Despite these variations, most definitions coalesce around three fundamental characteristics.

  1. Stereotype refers to an exaggerated and distorted characterization of a group, even if some elements of that description may be based on tangible evidence.

  2. The word refers to the tendency of stereotype users to apply that distorted description to almost all members of the group, thereby denying them individuality.

  3. People who hold that exaggerated perception of the group tend to be resistant to new evidence that might challenge that characterization. Encyclopedia of Diversity and Social Justice

Bias & Microagressions