Sunday, April 27, 2008

Implicit Association Tests

Implicit Associations Tests are evaluations in which various words and pictures are associated with concepts such as good or bad, black or white, etc. In these tests one must group these words and pictures into defined categories as fast as possible. The speed at which one is able to accomplish this task is often an indicator of the unconscious biases a person may have.

In the Implicit Associations Test which requires one to group light and dark skinned persons, an average or baseline is defined for that person by the speed at which they are able to complete this task. Later on the groups may be altered, wherein one must group together words and pictures that have an overall good meaning with pictures of dark skinned persons. For a person with a subconscious bias against dark skinned persons they will have greater difficulty completing this task. They will make mores mistakes and take longer to give the correct responses. The reason for this is that a person with such a bias would not normally associate dark skinned persons with a good or positive word or concept. In order to give the appropriate response the person will have to override their immediate response of filing dark skinned persons with negative terms, and then do the opposite. Naturally this would mean they would not complete the test as quickly as a person with no such biases, this new time is compared with the previous time in which they gave responses to groupings that felt more natural for them. The discrepancy in times is an indicator of their bias or preference.

Having taken several of the tests myself, I was surprised at the result. The tests detected that I have a strong preference for thin people versus fat people, light skin versus dark skin, and straight people versus gay people. While I must grudgingly admit that I probably do have a bias against dark skinned and homosexual people as a result of personal experiences, the mention of preferring thin people to fat people is a bias I was not expecting. Being overweight myself as well as having many friends that are not in the best of physical health suggested to me that it was not an issue. At the very little such a result is hypocritical of me.

If this test is indeed accurate I should think then that there are very few
people who would be evaluated as not having one preference over the other. Through the stereotypes we are in contact with, as well as our life experiences, it would be virtually impossible to maintain total neutrality. In this light I don’t think it was surprising that preferences were found, but having them define me as the classic middle-class white bigot was certainly unexpected as I had always thought of myself as being comfortable in most any company.

I believe that the tests are probably accurate and that my protests are mainly due to the differences in my ideal self image and the more realistic, but less popular, actual self image.

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