bias vs prejudice

Discussion in 'English Only' started by snowfox09, Mar 9, 2012.

  1. snowfox09 New Member

    Chinese - China
    Well, I have looked up the Oxford dic trying to find out the difference between these two words but ended up feeling more confused.
    Is there anybody who can tell the distinction between them?Thanks.
  2. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    English / England
    Do you have some real examples of sentences using the words? That would give us a better starting point for a discussion.
  3. snowfox09 New Member

    Chinese - China
    Every time when I encounter either of them, I just think if I can replace it with the other one. So I don't know how to choose when using them either.
  4. Kryptonite1303

    Kryptonite1303 Senior Member

    India - Tamil & English
    I think 'prejudice' has a negative connotation and refers to a person or feelings. 'Bias' is a more neutral word; can be positive or negative.
  5. Gwan Senior Member

    Indre et Loire, France
    New Zealand, English
    The two main points that come to mind are that you can be positively or negatively biased for or against someone/thing, whereas prejudice is, in current usage, always negative. Secondly prejudice means pre-judging, so it carries the idea of having made your opinion on someone or something without prior knowledge of that person or thing. For example, you may be prejudiced against New Zealanders even though you have never met any, or you had a bad encounter with one New Zealander and decided that all New Zealanders are rude. Whereas a bias can be based on a thorough knowledge of a person/thing - for example, one might think that a mother shouldn't judge an art competition in which her son is one of the competitors because she may be biased towards him.
  6. In AE, you can be prejudiced in favor of something as well as against it, although the word "prejudice" itself has a negative connotation. (So, for that matter, does "bias" itself. With both words, the implication is always that some factor - human feeling or an error in statistical method - is producing an outcome that is not strictly neutral or objective. That's generally considered a bad thing, although in certain situations a biased point of view might be considered useful.) In situations involving human interaction, the words are nearly interchangeable, but "bias" can be used about statistics, scientific evidence and the like, whereas "prejudice" is rarely used in that context.
  7. LilianaB Banned

    US New York
    I don't think bias is based on thorough knowledge of somebody or something. It probably could, but in most cases is not, I would think. People who are biased against other people base their prejudices on purely irrational factors, such as tradition, commonly accepted values, political beliefs, religious beliefs, family tradition, in many cases, cultural tradition, etc. Nothing individual and thought through.
  8. snowfox09 New Member

    Chinese - China
    Nicely put. Thanks for your so detailed explanation. Really appreciated
  9. Gwan Senior Member

    Indre et Loire, France
    New Zealand, English
    No, I said it can be based on a thorough knowledge. I was also mostly thinking of positive bias - we are generally biased towards things that we like for reasons that may have nothing to do with their intrinsic merit.
  10. LilianaB Banned

    US New York
    Bias, in AE, is usually used in a negative sense, Gwen, at least this is my experience.
  11. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    A bias is essentially a neutral word it is (i) an attribute of objects and things or (ii) an actual object, (i) "In this chemical reaction, you will see that the iron has a bias/is biased towards forming bonds with the oxygen." i.e. iron favours oxygen but not 100% of the time. - Obviously the iron does this without any malice or stupidity - it simply does it. (ii) You can also find a bias on a crown-green bowling ball - in this case the bias is an off-set weight that causes the ball to have a curved path when rolled - i.e. a bias towards either left or right. (The side with the bias has a colour on it: copy.jpg) A bias is also used in other mechanical applications, although nowadays, the figurative use is more common and is similar to prejudice.

    Prejudice is negative and is only used as the figurative part of bias. Its etymology explains it well:
    To judge before the facts are known... which is never a good thing.
  12. I entirely agree, PaulQ, but think it's also worth pointing out that, while the concept of prejudice is negative, the prejudiced feeling itself is not necessarily negative. That is, one can feel a prejudice toward something as well as against it. For example, an employer might be prejudiced in favor of an employee who is also a close friend. This is a bad thing, but the feelings the employer experiences are not negative. In fact, they are the opposite - he has positive feelings toward his friend, which results in prejudiced judgment and behavior. I mention because it would be easy to think of prejudice as arising only out of bigotry or negative stereotyping, when it can just as easily arise from a positive or friendly emotion.
  13. Linguo IS Dead Senior Member

    English - U.S.
    I would say this:

    bias is a preference for or against X
    prejudice is a preference for or against X which exists before the person has any knowledge of X

    Prejudice is always bias. Bias is not always prejudice.

    Let's say Ann wants to hire someone for a job. She looks at two resumes, and decide that Person A has more of the skills and qualifications she's looking for than Person B. So Ann is now biased toward A and against B.

    Now, let's say Becky also wants to hire someone. Before she ever looks at the resumes, she already has a preference for people who went to Harvard. It happens that A went to Harvard and B did not. So Becky is prejudiced toward A and against B.

    That said, I often hear people use "bias" when I would call it "prejudice" (a preexisting preference). I almost never hear "prejudice" when it's actually "bias" (a preference based on facts).
  14. That's interesting, Linguo. I don't think I would use bias in the situation with Ann because Person A is objectively better qualified for the job; I wouldn't consider it bias to favor them. It seems sort of obvious that any employer would be "biased" toward better qualified employees. It's like saying "I'm biased toward being happy." Well, of course I am! To me, bias has to include an element - of which there are many varieties, ranging from personal prejudice to faulty statistical method - that results in an outcome that is not the same as it would be if a truly neutral, objective judgment were made.

    Does that make sense?

    I agree that prejudice by definition involves pre-judging a person, but I would interpret that pretty broadly. For example, I would have no problem saying that an employer was prejudiced in favor of their own child (in the workplace), even though they obviously knew their child before he came to work for them.
  15. doodleysquat New Member

    English - American
    I often use bias to indicate a default direction. For example, "When dealing with a difficult coworker, my bias is to assume positive intent until I have evidence to the contrary." In this case, there is no prejudice because there is no prejudgment. There is a direction in which I lean, however.
  16. Juhasz Senior Member

    English - United States
    Which is, of course, where the word came from (according to the OED: "French biais, in 14th cent. ‘oblique, obliquity’"). If we can be prescriptive for a moment, bias probably should be used anonymously with bent. On the other hand, from a descriptivist perspective, it's clear that many people do use bias and prejudice interchangeably. My speculation is that the phrase "unfair bias" or something similar became so pervasive that unfair was eventually dropped; similar to how quality is often used to mean high quality.

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