Thursday, July 31, 2008

Implicit Association Test

On Talk of the Nation yesterday they had a segment on hidden racial biases. They had a sociologist on who was measuring them by what they call Implicit Association Tests (IAT).

I'll not explain how they are thought to work as I don't want to bias your results. Give it a shot, maybe before you read the rest of this post. The tests can be found here:

I took 3 of them. I took the one for skin color, black vs white, and was more than relieved to read:

Your data suggest little to no automatic preference between European American and African American.

Great, right? 1 for 1. But...

I saw they had a gay/straight test and I ended up with:

Your data suggest a slight automatic preference for Gay People compared to Straight People.

At least it's "slight". I was worried I may have negative subconscious biases against gays, due to my reflex regarding promiscuity.

Let's see, how to rationalize this?.. I don't want to be biased in favor of "my kind", even (or particularly) in my local anti-gay political arena. I think this might go back to my idea of moral orientation. There is an undeniable moral reflex component to my orientation built deep inside. I know this even though, rationally, on the surface I know it's not right. Heck, some of my best friends are straight ;-). It's something for me to keep in mind and watch for.

Finally, I took the Arab/Other test:

Your data suggest a slight automatic preference for Other People compared to Arab Muslims.

I know it's just a test and could certainly be wrong for all sorts of reasons, but this worried me. Did I maybe pick up bias after 9/11? Another bit of evidence may be in some overcompensation. Most of the charity my family has done recently has been involving the local refugee community, most of whom are Muslim, though not Arab. One of my good friends now is a conservative Muslim woman. Some people on the radio program talked about realizing their bias and then, in reaction, surrounding themselves with its target to work on that part of themselves they can't stand. Could I have subconsciously began involving myself with Muslims in recent years because I somewhere felt that bias and a need to exorcise it down?

It's complicated being human, conscious and still not privy to all that goes on between the ears, but I regret it could make sense to me now that I've this bias in me. I will be on the lookout.

Anyway, I recommend you take the tests (and share the results, please). Also, at the end they give you the distribution of others who've taken the same test (click on the image to get the detailed breakdown). Could you e-mail me the images of those distributions if you take a test I have not? I'm graphing them together out of curiosity:
I find it interesting how similar the reactions to black/white are to gay/straight, and I wonder how other groups compare.

If you get a unwanted result, I'd try to keep in mind (as I am trying :-)) it's not the subconscious bigotry that speaks to your character. It doesn't matter if a person feels nauseated at the sight of two men kissing, or an interracial couple, or whatever. It matters how they regard their reflex and how they act, how they treat their neighbor, or how they vote.

As a head of a minority family I know subconscious bias, regrettably held, is nothing compared to unabashed bigotry, felt without shame, felt even with surface self-righteousness and entitlement over the minority. One is a forgivable weakness of the pattern-seeking human brain; the other, though, is one of the most prolific fonts of human cruelty. Simply, there are the bigots and then there are bigots. We all probably have work to do and strict attention to pay to how we see the other, even if such a test means nothing.

When I'm not sick of it, I'm going back to do the JFK/GWB test. I know if that one comes off in a way I don't expect there's not much credence to them ;-).


Kengo Biddles said...

I showed up as "little to no automatic preference between Gay People and Straight People."

I found myself hesitating to punch the answers when either straight or gay was paired up with bad, but had little/no problem when they were paired with good.

After a point, I was somewhat twitching, because my muscles and brain were arguing, having a struggle about associating one or the other with gay/straight. Interesting. Thanks for sharing it, Scot.

Edgy said...

I had twitching problems too, but I think that has to do with my strong right dominance. I wonder how I would have faired on the tests had they removed it from a left/right hand thing to an index/middle finger thing.

With sexuality, I have a moderate automatic preference for gay people. This didn't surprise me too much.

With age, I have a strong automatic preference for young. I was surprised on this one, because I think young people are stupid. I wonder what might have happened had it not been twenty year olds versus eighty year olds.

With weight, I have a moderate automatic preference for thin. I was surprised at this one as well. I had assumed I would register very strong automatic preference for thin.

Marlo said...

strong preference for gay over straight...interesting....

Edgy said...

Oh. And I'm trying to send you the graphs on the weight and age tests. My outbox has been having issues today though.

Paul said...

The findings showed that my data suggest a slight automatic preference for African American compared to European American.

I hate to disagree with the test -- or sound racist -- but ...

On the first set of questions (white=good) I had a very hard time coordinating my left and right hands with the visuals, by the later series (black=good) I finally had hand-eye coordination down.

I confess, I've never played a video game. I think this had something to do with the methodology.

Now, I'm almost afraid to take the straight/gay test.

Scot said...

The coordination learning curve thing could be a problem. I did notice they repeated the first couple series of test, though, and I assumed they tossed out the presumed training set.

But I think the twitchyness edgy and kengo mentioned are supposedly part of the test, measuring how long it take to correctly associate something good with some group as that distance is spanned in the circuitry of the mind. I'll be interested to look at some of their formal papers to see how seriously it's taken and more on the proposed mechanisms. For instance, I'd bet the test was designed to be left/right hand to test/compare both hemispheres. Maybe only half my brain is a biased :-)?

MoHoHawaii said...

What fun!

I'm neutral (no preference) on the subject of black folks vs. white folks, but apparently my subconscious mind strongly prefers homo-everything. I'm so proud to have internalized the "Gay is good" slogan of the 1970s. I did just return from watching a 3-hour gay pride parade in Vancouver, BC, so maybe I'm especially homofriendly tonight.

Thanks for an incredible new way to procrastinate.