What’s Your Bias?

Implicit Association Test Reveals Bias From All Fronts

Prejudice and racism are two words that are often used in the Black community with disdain towards people who have historically oppressed that community and many others.

One can hear those words from the local conspiracy theorist in the neighborhood all the way up to the professional politicians that want to lead the community. It brings about a certain amount of hurt and anger mixed together, but many in the majority communities have expressed the feeling that these words represent the past of the United States, not the present.

Well, a test on the Harvard University website called the Implicit Association Test is working to change some of those ideas. The test, which had its origins in 1994 when Anthony Greenwald, Mahazarin Banaji and Sendhil Mullainathan came up with a bias test that involved subconscious quick thinking, has since evolved into a site that offers 60 different bias tests given randomly each time someone logs in.

The way the test works is that it links together words and images and measures what associations are easier to make for the person. People who take the web version are given a series of pictures and asked to associate the pictures with negative and positive words. But the trick is that the test is timed and goes very quickly. In the very beginning, the test taker is asked to press his or her index fingers on the “E” and “I” buttons and thumb on the space bar. The time difference it takes to make these associations are then quantified and measured.

“I think this test is very intriguing because it tests something that a lot of people in America have—biases,” said Lauren Childress, a senior from Howard University. “You know, people who think that they are liberal may not be as liberal as they assume they are and the test gives you a chance to see that.”

The tests have been taken by more than 2 million people with 90 percent of them in the United States and have shown that 88 percent of the white people who took the test had a pro-white bias, almost 83 percent of the heterosexuals that took the test had biases for heterosexuals over homosexuals. Yet, these groups were not alone in their biases.

The tests also showed that minority communities had similar biases against their own communities. Forty-eight percent of the black people who tested showed a pro-white bias and 38 percent of the homosexuals tested had a bias for heterosexuals over homosexuals.

But some students felt that these results were not so shocking. “The reason minorities showed the same biases as the other people is because that’s what we’ve been told all our lives, especially black people,” said Talia Buford, a senior from Hampton University. “It also enforces our positions in society and how we view ourselves.”

Even one of the developers of the test said that she felt the test showed just as much about society as it did about the person taking the test. “The Implicit Association Test measures the thumbprint of the culture on our minds,” said Banaji to the Washington Post Magazine.

“If Europeans had been carted to Africa as slaves, blacks would have the same beliefs about whites that whites now have about blacks. [The Implicit Association Test] is picking up that aspect of the culture that has gotten into your brain and mind.”