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What is Affinity Bias?

Define Affinity Bias. How to avoid affinity bias? examples of affinity bias .

This article is a continuation of our understanding bias series. You can review our other articles on Unconscious vs subconscious bias, Social Desirability bias, Actor Observer Bias, self-serving bias, response bias and non response bias, Affinity bias, and hiring bias plus many more.

When we gravitate towards people who are similar to us, it’s called affinity bias. This means that as a society, we tend to like those who share our values and beliefs. We enjoy conversations with those whose thoughts and opinions agree with ours. It’s natural human behaviour — having things in common makes us feel comfortable.

We like people who are like us. It’s what we do! But there is a limit to the principle of affinity bias, when it turns into discrimination and eventually becomes an obsession. And when obsessive tendencies take over our lives, bad things happen – often without us even knowing it.

Affinity Bias Definition

Affinity bias can turn into discrimination when we become too attached to people who are like us. When we feel so strongly about our beliefs and opinions that people who disagree with them evoke a strong negative response in us, affinity bias has gotten out of control.

In some cases, this may mean that we refuse to associate with those who don’t think as we do. In other cases, it can mean that we become racists or sexists when the people with whom we identify are of a specific race or same gender.

In any event, what is important to remember about affinity bias is that our feelings for someone may be based on nothing more than the color of their skin, their gender, their age, their neighborhood or even the music they listen to. We may like someone simply because we believe that they like us – and if we would stop and think about it, we would know that there is no logical reason for the decision.

What causes affinity bias?

Our early years hold many of our strongest memories. As children, we are very dependent on the adults in our lives to teach us how to think and feel about ourselves, other people and the world around us. Our parents are usually the ones who influence us most in this regard.

Affinity bias is a learned behavior, meaning that we pick up our feeling from others whom we admire or love — parents , friends , teachers and even fictional characters who we see on TV or in movies.

Identifying with those we admire is a good thing – but when we make judgments and decisions based upon our affinity to someone (or something), problems arise. The problem with this is that their opinions don’t always reflect the whole truth about the issue at hand. So, despite the fact that we share the same preferences and opinions as someone else, their opinion may not be correct or even logical. Affinity bias can cause us to ignore facts and evidence .

Even though we expect people around us to “feel” the way we do, sometimes they don’t. It’s easy to look at others who think differently than we do as ignorant or even stupid – but this is not fair.

Is Affinity Bias Bad?

Affinity bias can really take a hit on your bottom line, but it’s just human nature. Have you ever noticed that if someone seems genuinely interested in what you do or say, you’re more likely to think well of them?

Or even worse, maybe you’ve experienced affinity bias when hiring. If the interviewer likes the candidate based on their personality, you might look the other way on a few flaws in their resume.

The most harmful affinity bias is in the hiring process: over 80 percent of managers say that they would hire a less-qualified candidate if they liked them.

Our brains make quick decisions based on feelings, but when we’re assessing candidates for an important position, emotions need to be taken out of the equation. Instead of looking for someone you like, look for someone who will fit into the company culture and do their job well.

When is Affinity Bias Useful?

Affinity bias is useful in healthcare contexts because it can lead people with a common factor (like cancer) to cooperate and share advice. The result of this cooperation is a sense of community for those suffering from the same condition.

One study found that those suffering from breast cancer who interacted with other suffering from breast cancer reported higher levels of positive health behaviors than those suffering from breast cancer who did not interact with others suffering from the illness.

A study showed that interaction with others suffering from cancer created a sense of community, and this in turn led to positive health behaviors such as increased compliance with treatment regimens.

People who interact only with those without the illness (like friends or family members) report more negative feelings about their illness and less adherence to treatment protocols.

Examples of Affinity Bias

The following are just a few examples of cases that exhibit the concept of affinity bias:

  1. A person’s religion or political party affiliation is closely tied to their race, which could lead to prejudice on the basis of race.
  2. People may believe that people who are attractive are more intelligent because it’s difficult for average-looking people to excel in academia.
  3. Groups who have less power may feel more solidarity with other groups who have less power, even if the out-group is not necessarily oppressed in the same way as they are.
  4. A person might think “all rich people are crooks” because they’ve had bad experiences with some wealthy people.
  5. Affinity bias is closely tied to the concept of in-group favoritism, where people form positive feelings for others who they perceive are members of their in-group. Out-group favoritism occurs when there is a negative perception or feeling toward someone the perceiver considers an out-group member.

Ways to Avoid Affinity Bias

Become aware of your affinity bias. This can be done by recording when and why you’re inclined to hire people from your network.

Examine the idea that a person from your network might have been selected for reasons beyond their qualifications, such as a personal relationship or a situational similarity. Examine any other organizational dynamics which may cause an employee to seem like a better choice than they are.

Recognize that sometimes people outside your network might be the right person for the job, despite not having an existing relationship.

Increase diversity within your network by connecting with people you don’t know through professional organizations, classes or other activities. Make sure to maintain these new connections long after business has been completed.

Final Thoughts

The problem with affinity bias stems from the fact that we make decisions about things, events and people based on how we feel without taking a moment to think rationally …

Affinity bias can affect everyone’s work life. The tendency to favor those who are most like us at work can lead to discrimination in the office. It can also cause inefficient team-building efforts and even affect employee turnover rates .

The way out of affinity bias is to try our best to look at all sides of an issue before making a decision. Even if we believe that one side is clearly right – it’s always worthwhile to listen and give others a chance to voice their opinions.

By making ourselves aware of how our affinity with others can affect our decisions and behavior, we can work to minimize its impact and make smart choices when it comes to important issues and people.

Affinity Bias

What is Affinity Bias?

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About the author

Susanne Ricee

Susanne Ricee is the Diversity and Inclusion Specialist and Researcher at Diversity for Social Impact. Sue brings over 15 years of HR and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion consultation experience.
Sue's previous experience includes Microsoft, Target, and Kraft. Sue is also the manager of Diversity Leadership Directory