My Unconscious is Clear

by on March 8, 2005 at 7:13 am in Science | Permalink

The Implicit Association Test is revolutionizing the study of prejudice and bias.  The basic idea is simple, the test taker is asked to categorize a series of faces, hitting a right hand key for a white face and a left hand key for a black face.  Then the taker must similarly categorize a series of words as good or bad, words like wonderful, nasty, peace, hate etc.

Now here is where it gets interesting.  The next list contains both faces and words and the test taker is asked to hit a right hand key if the word is either good or the face is white or to hit a left hand key if the word is either bad or the face black.  Finally, the same task is performed but now the test taker must categorize together good words and black faces and bad words and white faces. The test taker is asked to do the test as fast as possible. 

Bias is revealed, so the argument goes, if response time is faster when good words must be paired with white faces and bad words paired with black faces than the reverse.  Call it the Blink, Blink, Bias test.

Now before you object, it has been shown that the biases revealed by the test do correlate
well with policy preferences and a wide variety of conscious and
unconscious actions.  Also the order of the two important tests, whether you hit the right or left hand keys etc. can all be varied with no change in results.

But what I find most interesting about these tests is that they do not always correlate the way one might expect.  This article from the Washington Post, for example, discusses a number of liberals who took the test and were shocked and appalled to find that they were unconsciously biased.

And now for my confession.  I am well aware of the differences in crime rates, IQ scores, welfare dependency and other factors across races.  I have sometimes been called a racist for mentioning these things.  I would be lying if I said I had a lot of black friends.  Thus, I was prepared to be told the worst about myself and adjust my conscious beliefs accordingly.

But according to the IAT, I showed no signs of bias!  Frankly, I am surprised but my unconscious is clear.

You can take the test here.  Hat tip to Mahalanobis.

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