Invisible bias (and some interesting tests to take)

“A group of psychologists claim a test can measure prejudices we harbor without even knowing it. Their critics say they are politicizing psychology.”

Chris Berdik in The Boston Globe:

Inside the wood-paneled confines of the Harvard Club, about 200 Bostonians gathered recently to tap into their subconscious. Literally. Audience members were told to move as quickly as possible through a series of faces and words projected on a screen, tapping their left knees for a young face or a “good” word (joy, sunshine, love), and their right knees for an old face or a “bad” word (bomb, agony, vomit). It took about 15 seconds for most to finish. But when asked to switch, to pair young faces with “bad” words and old faces with “good” words, the rhythm faltered and the tapping slowed. Audience members shook their heads and giggled. Some threw up their hands.

To the Harvard psychologist Mahzarin Banaji, who presided over the event, the demonstration showed that most of the audience — like most of the people who have been subjects in this type of experiment — have a harder time associating old people (or nonwhite people, or homosexuals) with “good” when given no time to think. These are all examples of what Banaji calls implicit prejudice, and their importance extends way beyond an intellectual parlor game. Implicit prejudice, she argues, can affect our decisions and behaviors without our even knowing it, undermining our conscious ideas and best intentions about equality and justice.

Read more here.

Here’s the fun bit: when you are done with that article, click here to take a few Implicit Association Tests for yourself (click on the Demonstration button once you are there). There are many different kinds, each of which measures one type of prejudice you may hold. If you took a test about race, for example, it will tell you whether you have a strong, moderate, slight, or no preference for black people over white ones, for example.

I took five tests. Here are my results:

  • I have a strong association between science and males, and liberal arts and females.
  • I have a moderate preference for young people over old.
  • I have a slight preference for other religions relative to Judaism.
  • I have a slight preference for other people relative to Arabs or Muslims.
  • I have a slight preference for straight over gay people.

So, I turn out to be a sexist, ageist, anti-semitic, self-hating (as a Muslim), homophobe. At least slightly. Who woulda’ thunk it! But before you judge me, take a few of these tests yourself, and report the results honestly. It’s kind of fun to do.

Please report the results of any tests you take in a comment to this post. I am very interested to see what other people come up with. Thanks. Now try it!