Most of us would be surprised if we discovered that there were unconscious biases behind some of our everyday decisions, judgements and utterances. Particularly when we would completely reject the accusation that we were bigoted, prejudiced or biased in any way.
The problem is that unconscious biases can be very difficult to detect. They are not reasons we would cite in explaining our behaviour. By definition, we are not conscious of them. So it makes perfect sense that we would reject any such accusation.
Unconscious biases are sometimes referred to in order to make sense of how it can be possible to declare commitment to very specific values and standards, whilst simultaneously behaving in a manner that would contain indications of contradictory beliefs.
This tends to be the case within the worlds of politics, media and sport. Despite the expectation that individuals participating, reporting, directing or governing are committed to strict codes of conduct and have strong moral values, we don’t have to think too hard to come up with examples of unconscious bias.
Scottish football is also a very good case study. Despite assurances to the contrary, there are many instances when journalistic commitment to impartiality is undermined by unconscious bias. This is particularly so in difficult and challenging times, when emotions are running high and there is so much at stake.
The majority of football articles are no doubt written in good faith; within the profession there is a firm commitment to the values of integrity, honesty and impartiality.
But what appears to be honest and impartial reporting can sometimes reveal a lot more about the extent of unconscious bias in the media than many decent journalists would dare admit.
Witness the style of language used in articles about Neil Lennon for example. Some are more complimentary than others, but many include words like ‘bully’, ‘confrontational’, ‘wrath’, and ‘self-indulgence’.
And contrast with the words used in connection with Ally McCoist. Some have been less complimentary in light of recent events, but many have included ‘dedicated, ‘fans champion’, ‘struggles on’, and ‘passionate’.
Unconscious bias typically operates under the radar. The sting is that it can evoke an equally unconscious response in impressionable minds. And although it wasn’t the intention, it can ultimately lead to a blatantly bigoted behavioural reaction.
The effect of unconscious bias in the media is to reinforce some of the negative cultural stereotypes that can aggravate the blatant bigotry witnessed in the streets, in the pubs and at football matches. And in that respect, it needs to take its share of the responsibility.
The Scottish media is not just describing certain situations from a distance; it is right there, in the thick of it.
Blatant bigotry in the streets is easy to detect. It is right there in front of our eyes. It is disgusting.
Unconscious bias in the media can be much more difficult to detect. It is hidden, but it occurs.
And we can trace its path right through to its visibly disgusting conclusion.