Analysis of coupled variables is a core concept of cell biological inference, with co-localization of two molecules as a proxy for protein interaction being a ubiquitous example. However, external effectors may influence the observed co-localization independently from the local interaction of two proteins. Such global bias, although biologically meaningful, is often neglected when interpreting co-localization. Here, we describe DeBias, a computational method to quantify and decouple global bias from local interactions between variables by modeling the observed co-localization as the cumulative contribution of a global and a local component. We showcase four applications of DeBias in different areas of cell biology, and demonstrate that the global bias encapsulates fundamental mechanistic insight into cellular behavior.