What Is Affinity Bias? | Definition & Examples
Affinity bias is the tendency to favour people who share similar interests, backgrounds, and experiences with us. Because of affinity bias, we tend to feel more comfortable around people who are like us. We also tend to unconsciously reject those who act or look different to us.
Affinity bias is also known as similarity bias. It can lead to the exclusion of individuals or groups.
What is affinity bias?
Affinity bias is a form of unconscious or implicit bias. This is a type of automatic and unconscious attitude that can affect our judgement, decisions, or behaviour. Our biases are influenced by our background, cultural environment, and personal experiences. Because bias operates on an unconscious level, we may not even be aware of our biased views or of how they might affect others.
Affinity bias occurs when we show a preference for people who we perceive to be ‘just like us’. Any perceived similarity or connection, however big or small, can cause affinity bias: hobbies, preferences, cultural backgrounds, shared past experiences, etc.
Why does affinity bias occur?
Affinity bias occurs because it’s easier for us to get along with people we perceive to be similar to us. When we meet someone who shares our views or experiences, we feel a natural connection to them. That’s why people often socialize and join groups of like-minded individuals.
There are several reasons why we favor people similar to us:
- Our brains like shortcuts. Affinity bias, just like other forms of bias, allows us to quickly judge and assess people and situations without us realising. It’s essentially a shortcut, or heuristic, that saves us time and energy.
- We make (unconscious) associations. These develop over the course of a lifetime, through the direct or indirect experiences we have with members of other social groups. Our upbringing, the stories and media we are exposed to, and even the jokes we hear help shape our attitudes towards others.
- We like being around people that make us comfortable. At the same time, we tend to feel uncomfortable in the presence of people who are not like us. It’s easier to build a good rapport when we see our views echoed by others, while this is far more difficult when we do not.
Why is affinity bias a problem?
Although there is no harm in seeking out people who share our interests or values, focusing on similarity over other traits can cause tunnel vision, leading us to miss out on different perspectives. If left unchecked, affinity bias can lead to the marginalisation of certain individuals or groups of people.
Affinity bias often shows up in hiring processes, as we search for candidates that ‘fit’ the culture of the department or company. For example, a hiring manager may gravitate towards a candidate because they went to the same school.
In the long run, affinity bias in organisations can have a negative impact on a company’s diversity and inclusion efforts. For example, managers may promote those whose views and ideas are similar to their own or invest more resources in mentoring people who remind them of themselves.
Affinity bias example
Affinity bias often affects recruitment decisions in organisations, because hiring managers often have little time to carefully consider all candidates who apply for a position.
How to avoid affinity bias
Although eliminating affinity bias entirely may not be possible, there are ways to minimise its effects:
- Be aware of your bias. Whenever you meet a new person, be it in your personal or professional life, remember that affinity bias can heavily influence your first impressions. Consider all the ways in which you may be similar or different, and be mindful of how this may colour your perceptions.
- Actively seek out different perspectives. Although we all want to be around people we can relate to, taking this too far can cause us to surround ourselves with people who share our worldview, resulting in confirmation bias. This can make us too rigid and intolerant towards differences, while encountering alternative perspectives (e.g., by enlarging our social circle) can expand our sense of affinity.
- Find common characteristics. When meeting new people, make an effort and try to identify what attributes you share with them. Even if it’s not immediately apparent, you probably have something in common, such as interests, preferences, or experiences.
Frequently asked questions
- What is implicit bias?
Implicit bias refers to attitudes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. These attitudes can be either positive or negative. Affinity bias, or the tendency to gravitate towards people who are similar to us, is a type of implicit or unconscious bias.
- Why is affinity bias a problem?
Affinity bias is a problem because favouring people who are similar to us has the inevitable side effect of excluding those who act or look different.
For example, a manager might spend more time mentoring someone on their team that reminds them of their younger self. This also means that other equally capable (or even more capable) employees have not been given the same opportunity.
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