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New Method, Called IAT Test, Can Reveal Hidden Biases

Armen Hareyan's picture

Race IAT Test

The human subconscious is a scary place. It's an invisible warehouse, full of ideas that many attempt to suppress and ignore.

Sometimes, bits and pieces can emerge at the most inopportune times. Just ask Don Imus, Michael Richards or any other public figure who has fallen from grace due to an ill-fated slip of the tongue.

Now, a team of researchers including UW psychology professor Anthony Greenwald have created an online test that allows subjects to measure their once-inaccessible biases.

Greenwald is one of three primary researchers who developed the Implicit Association Test, which is designed to detect an individual's hidden biases in categories such as race, age, weight and religion, among others. The test, created in 1994, is part of Project Implicit, an online laboratory designed to raise people's awareness of the effects of stereotypes and prejudice acquired from their socio-cultural environment.

"I took the first Race IAT," said Greenwald, who has taken the test hundreds of times since. "Yes, the results at first surprised me."

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The IAT works by measuring the amount of time a person takes to sort "good and bad" words with pictures of different types of faces or objects. For example, during the Race IAT, words and pictures of either African American or Eastern European faces flash on the screen in rapid succession. The test-taker must then link certain words and pictures with certain buttons on a keyboard. The amount of time it takes a person to press the corresponding button can be measured and used to determine hidden biases.

The test takes less than five minutes to complete. Finding out the results of the IAT can be an eye-opening experience.

"No matter how you score, the test really makes you aware of how affected you are by your surroundings, and especially the messages from the media," said junior Haley Bavasi, who recently took the race IAT.

Doctoral candidate Keith Leavitt, who is also an affiliated researcher with Project Implicit, shared a similar experience.

"I didn't feel a lot of discomfort with finding out results, mainly because implicit attitudes form outside of our control, and come from sources like the media [or] our parents," he said. "In short, individual[s] only have so much control over their implicit attitudes."

Regardless of whether the results serve as a reaffirmation of an individual's beliefs or a shock to long-held attitudes, IAT could be used as a powerful tool geared toward fostering a more egalitarian society.

"It may be the best device for acquainting people with the possibility that they may possess racial attitudes of which they are unaware, and which they may not endorse," Greenwald said. "They will have an easier time overcoming implicit biases if they are aware that they have them." Soutce: Harvard University