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Unconscious bias harms patients and staff

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 26 November 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h6347
  1. Narinder Kapur, visiting professor of neuropsychology, University College London, London WC1E 7HJ
  1. n.kapur{at}

We have a duty to identify it and act

Human bias can be defined as a disposition to think, feel, or act in a particular way. It may stem from longstanding personality attributes, from particular sets of knowledge or past experience, or from a current predicament. Unconscious bias occurs when such tendencies are outside our awareness and conscious control. Some unconscious bias can seem positive—for example, intuition and “gut instinct”—but not always.

The Nobel Prize winning psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, has postulated the operation of fast and slow cognitive processing systems, where the fast, unconscious system is particularly prone to errors such as unconscious bias.1 In recent years our understanding of cognitive bias has advanced, both as a general phenomenon2 and as a phenomenon within specific domains such as racism.3 Unacceptable disparities in ethnic representation at senior levels raise the …

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