Bias is undue favor or support to a particular person, group, race, or one argument over another.
When someone is completely biased, it means that they are without a neutral viewpoint on a topic. This person is fully invested in one side of the argument, in one person or group of people. Usually, someone is biased because it suits their interests. For example, someone who advocates for the benefits of private health care because they themselves stand to make money from the industry.
Definition and Explanation of Bias
Bias is a tendency to lean in a particular direction. This means, as mentioned above, to be in favor of a particular point of view or person. Usually, bias is seen as something negative, but that isn’t always the case. When someone favors something, that outcome might be positive rather than negative. For example, someone might be biased towards taking care of the poor because they were once poor themselves. Or, in a different scenario, someone might be biased against taking care of the poor because they’ve always been rich and see no need to spend resources in that way.
The word “bias” comes from the French word “biais” which means “slant” or “angle” and refers to the way that bias convinces people to support one thing over another.
Types of Bias
There are many different types of bias possible, with more being created every day. Some of the most prominent are:
- Racial discrimination
- Religious discrimination
Examples of Bias in Literature
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
There is more than one example of bias in Dickens’s writing. This is due to the fact that he was willing to take on topics, such as poverty and crime, other writers shied away from. Here are a few lines from Oliver Twist that show stereotyping of Jews:
The Jew rubbed his hands; and, sitting down at the table, affected to laugh at the pleasantry of his friend. He was obviously very ill at ease, however.
These lines come from the perspective of Sikes who depicts Fagin, a Jew, in a stereotypical way. No matter what attitude Fagin demonstrates, Sikes is going to see him in a certain way. These lines reveal how Sikes truly sees Fagin.
Othello by William Shakespeare
Othello is one of the best examples from Shakespeare’s oeuvre that demonstrates bias. Here are a few lines that Iago uses in the play:
Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise!
Awake the snorting citizens with the bell,
Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you.
Arise, I say!
These lines show how Iago uses bias to describe Othello. They are used to try to influence other characters, like Barbantio to think a certain way about him. He uses “old black ram” as a racial slur and an attempt to degrade Othello in their minds.
Bias or Prejudice
Prejudice refers to a preconceived opinion or feeling toward a person due to their affiliation with a group. Someone might be prejudice towards someone in a specific religious group, ethnic group, or organization of some kind. For example, someone might be prejudice towards a religious group because of their negative experience with the religion as a young person.
Bias or Discrimination
Discrimination is different than bias or prejudice. It’s what happens after the prejudice takes hold. It’s the actions one takes because of how they feel. For example, the discriminatory practices during the Jim Crow era in the United States. White Americans felt a certain way and therefore supported the implementation and continuation of these laws.
It’s also possible to discriminate in a way that’s viewed more positively. For example, when certain parking spaces are reserved for seniors or veterans.
In the media, it’s easy to seek out and find the following types of bias:
- Advertising Bias: a media company chooses stories based on what pleases advertisers. With more advertising funds, the company makes more money. This distorts the news for viewers and readers.
- Concision Bias: occurs when the media outlet creates short reports on topics that should take more time and knowledge to understand. These short, few hundred-word articles make it easy for readers to learn something about a topic.
- Corporate Bias: occurs when the media outlet chooses stories that suit the owners of the company. For example, a company’s CEO might hold strong political beliefs and the media company reports news that suits those beliefs.
- Sensationalism: occurs when a media outlet chooses to report on an extraordinary event over everyday news. The event might have no bearing on the lives of those watching, and it might not even be as interesting or extreme as the news agency is making it out to be. They continue to report on it and talk about it because it attracts viewers/readers/listeners.
Confirmation Bias and Implicit Bias
Confirmation bias and implicit bias are related to the overarching definition of “bias.” Implicit bias describes the attitudes people hold toward one another without their conscious knowledge. One person might have an implicit bias against another type of person but not realize it until it’s pointed out. This is one of the most prevalent and hard to address kinds of bias.
Confirmation bias is a kind of bias in which someone sees exactly what they want to see, whether it’s there or not. For example, one person might interpret evidence in a way that suits their opinion. It’s possible to unaware of confirmation bias just as it’s possible to be ignorant of one’s own implicit bias.
Why Do Writers Use Bias?
Writers use bias intentionally and unintentionally. When used intentionally in an attempt to convey one character’s opinion of another, such as in Othello, it can be very effective and even disturbing for those reading. Writers can make their characters incredibly cruel, racist, discriminatory, and unlikeable. Bias is one of the easiest ways to do this. A writer might also accidentally tap into their own bias while writing. This is something that is important to avoid is the writer is working on a non-fiction work or they don’t realize they have a particular bias. It’s easy to see how someone whose strongly biased against a group might portray them negatively even if they didn’t set out to do so.
Some writers use bias for their benefit in writing. For example, those who write accounts of events strongly tinged in the bias they know their audience shares.
Related Literary Terms
- Adage: a short, familiar, and memorable saying that strikes as an irrefutable truth to a wide segment of the population.
- Allusion: an indirect reference to, including but not limited to, an idea, event, or person. It is used within both prose and verse writing.
- Euphemism: an indirect expression used to replace that something that is deemed inappropriate or crude.
- False Dichotomy: a choice between two options that are delivered as though they are the only two possible options.