Negative Bias? The overcompensation for the appearance of bias

This post is part 1 of my “poor decision making” series. It’s based on my experiences last weekend (12th–13th March) when I was on a trip with my school for its prefects.


My school recently introduced a system of prefects, and I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of them. The prefects who were chosen went on a training trip with the head teachers. One of the purposes of the trip was to pick from the team, four “senior” prefects: a head boy, deputy head boy, head girl, and a deputy head girl. It is the decision of who was picked for these four top positions that I am writing about.

This post is about the problem of what I am calling “negative bias”. Basically, negative bias is when someone overcompensates for something that may be construed as being bias towards someone, and it in fact becomes so that they are bias against them.

One real-world example where this could be easily seen is in sports. Let us take a hypothetical match between the Broncos and the Rabbitohs. Let’s say the referee in this match supports the Rabbitohs. Because he wants to do his best to be neutral, he deliberately becomes stricter against the Rabbitohs then he normally would be. While this should dispel any of the complaints of bias, it is then very unfair for the team being discriminated against. It would most likely actually have been fairer if the referee had acted as he normally would, although in this situation people would perceive the ref as being bias towards his preferred team.

While this particular example is unlikely to come up—sports tend not to allow referees to work when a team they support is playing—I experienced a very similar situation this past weekend on my prefect trip. I was one of the students interested in being head boy or deputy head boy, and I think I would have been a very good candidate for either of these positions. However, my parents are teachers at the school, and so had I been picked (even if it was based purely on merit), it would have seemed to the parents of others (who, at international school, are often very quick to complain) that I had been picked because of my parents being teachers. This is the perceived bias talked about earlier. Instead, the teachers responsible for selecting head students will have ruled me out as a candidate for the job. Ruling me out is overcompensation for the appearance of bias.

Now, obviously, I can’t say for certain that if I weren’t a teacher’s kid, I would have been selected. But I do strongly believe that had the situation been different, I would have been selected. I can say this based on who was actually picked, and other circumstances around their selection, which I will go into in the second post of this series.

So, what do you think? Have you been in any situations where you, or someone you know, have been the subject of negative bias? Do you think that there are any situations (perhaps even the ones I mentioned), where negative bias can be justified? Let me know in a comment below. If you’re a student at the school, I encourage you to consider posting anonymously if you’re talking specifically about the people who were chosen.


One comment on “Negative Bias? The overcompensation for the appearance of bias

  1. […] part 1 and part 2 of this series, I talked about why the (then) recent decisions relating to school […]

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