What Is Explicit Bias? | Definition & Examples

Explicit bias is a demonstration of conscious preference or aversion towards a person or group. With explicit bias, we are aware of the attitudes and beliefs we have towards others. These beliefs can be either positive or negative and can cause us to treat others unfairly.

Example: Explicit bias
Your teacher has graded your math exams and is handing out your papers. As they walk by an Asian-American student, the teacher makes an offhand remark about how they had expected better results from that student because ‘Asians are good at math’.

Expressions of explicit bias can seem innocuous, like the example above, but they can also include hate speech, physical harassment, or discriminatory policies that target and exclude individuals or groups.

What is explicit bias?

Explicit bias occurs when our perception is distorted due to preferences and beliefs that we consciously hold about others. Negative behaviour (such as overtly racist acts or prejudiced comments) can be a result of explicit bias. However, a teacher who openly praises students from a specific ethnic or socioeconomic group is also expressing explicit bias. In other words, even when our assumptions about a group are positive, we are still biased. Whether positive or negative, explicit bias prevents us from being fair in our judgements.

Explicit bias occurs as a result of deliberate thoughts, which we can both identify and communicate with others. Any aspect of an individual’s identity can become the target of explicit bias, including:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Ability

Often these biases (and their outward expression) arise as a result of a perceived threat. When people feel threatened, they are more likely to seek to separate themselves from ‘others’ because this gives them a false sense of security. For example, when a country experiences an economic downturn and unemployment is on the rise, people are more likely to become hostile towards foreign workers.

What is the difference between explicit and implicit bias?

The difference between explicit and implicit bias is conscious awareness. Although both involve favourable or unfavourable evaluations of groups of people, they operate differently.

Explicit bias refers to biased attitudes we are aware of, while implicit bias operates outside our awareness and control. Explicit bias is usually easier to identify, as it’s more obvious. Conversely, implicit bias is more subtle and can be in direct contradiction to a person’s openly held beliefs.

Explicit bias Implicit bias
Preferences, beliefs, and attitudes of which people are generally consciously aware Associations and reactions that emerge automatically, without conscious awareness or intention
Expressed directly and deliberately Expressed indirectly or subtly
Operates at a conscious level, in line with one’s values and worldview Operates subconsciously, even in direct contradiction to one’s values and worldview
Example: ‘Female scientists who are mothers are not serious about their research’ Example: Not promoting female scientists who have a family

Explicit bias example

Explicit bias in the form of racism continues to maintain a foothold in research today. It often manifests in the form of false beliefs regarding the influence of biology on intelligence.

Example: Explicit bias in science
It’s not uncommon for some researchers to use science as a pretext to promote racist ideologies, even today. This pseudoscience is informed by explicit bias and is called scientific racism.

One such persisting idea is that differences on IQ tests have a racial component. Since the beginning of IQ testing, scientists have observed differences between the average scores of different population groups, and there have been debates over whether this is due to environmental and cultural factors or due to some underlying genetic factor.

However, the concept of race is not grounded in genetics, but rather in sociology. Today, the scientific consensus is that genetics do not explain differences in IQ test performance between racial groups. While genetic variation may help to explain why one person is more intelligent than another, there are unlikely to be stable and systematic genetic differences that make one population more intelligent than the next.

Environmental factors such as education, early life nutrition, and access to healthcare (rather than genetic factors) are often the cause of these differences.

Frequently asked questions

What is the opposite of explicit bias?

The opposite of explicit bias is implicit or unconscious bias. This refers to all the subconscious evaluations we have formed about a certain group. Implicit bias can influence our interactions with members of this group without us realising.

Is bias positive or negative?

Bias can be either positive or negative. However, all forms of bias (whether favourable or unfavourable) prevent us from judging others fairly.

For example, because of explicit bias, a teacher might openly claim that students from a certain ethnic background are exceptionally good in math. Even though this sounds positive, it means that other students are automatically treated as second-rate. For this reason, bias is linked to unfairness and thus has a negative connotation.

What are the two main types of bias?

There are two main types of bias:

Implicit bias is the positive or negative attitudes, feelings, and stereotypes we maintain about members of a certain group without us being consciously aware of them.

Explicit bias is the positive or negative attitudes, feelings, and stereotypes we maintain about others while being consciously aware of them.

What is bias?

Bias is a systematic error in the design, administration, or analysis of a study. Because of bias, study results deviate from their true value and researchers draw erroneous conclusions.

There are several types of bias and different research designs or fields are susceptible to different types of research bias. For example, in health research, bias arises from two main sources:

  • The approach adopted for selecting study participants
  • The approach adopted for collecting or measuring data

These are, respectively, selection bias and information bias.

Sources for this article

We strongly encourage students to use sources in their work. You can cite our article (APA Style) or take a deep dive into the articles below.

This Scribbr article

Nikolopoulou, K. (2023, January 20). What Is Explicit Bias? | Definition & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved 12 June 2024, from https://www.scribbr.co.uk/bias-in-research/the-explicit-bias/


Daumeyer, Natalie & Onyeador, Ivuoma & Brown, Xanni & Richeson, Jennifer. (2019). Consequences of Attributing Discrimination to Implicit vs. Explicit Bias. 10.31234/osf.io/42j7v.

Mitchell, K. (2018, May 2). Why genetic IQ differences between “races” are unlikely. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2018/may/02/why-genetic-iq-differences-between-races-are-unlikely

Skibba, R. (2019, May 20). The Disturbing Resilience of Scientific Racism. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/disturbing-resilience-scientific-racism-180972243/

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Kassiani Nikolopoulou

Kassiani has an academic background in Communication, Bioeconomy and Circular Economy. As a former journalist she enjoys turning complex scientific information into easily accessible articles to help students. She specialises in writing about research methods and research bias.