Monday, December 20, 2004

Implicit Biases

3 Quarks Daily has an interesting post on our implicit biases:
Inside the wood-paneled confines of the Harvard Club, about 200 Bostonians gathered recently to tap into their subconscious. Literally. Audience members were told to move as quickly as possible through a series of faces and words projected on a screen, tapping their left knees for a young face or a "good" word (joy, sunshine, love), and their right knees for an old face or a "bad" word (bomb, agony, vomit). It took about 15 seconds for most to finish. But when asked to switch, to pair young faces with "bad" words and old faces with "good" words, the rhythm faltered and the tapping slowed. Audience members shook their heads and giggled. Some threw up their hands.

You can test yourself here.

I wasn't surprised to learn that I have a moderate preference for young people over old; slight preferences for straight over gay, and for Judaism over other religions.

More surprisingly, I had "little or no automatic preference for African American relative to White American". (I would have expected some latent pro-white prejudice, but I'm certainly happy to be wrong about that!)

Strangest of all, I seem to hold "a moderate association between science and Female relative to Male". Maybe because I associate myself (as a male) with liberal arts? Or maybe the tests are just unreliable...

Good fun though, anyway. Leave a comment and let me know what your automatic prejudices are!


  1. Quite dissapointing in a way...
    Apparently I have a strong automatic preference for young over old...
    This is curious... It leaves me wondering exactly what the test is measuring. Then again I did just recently have a fight with an old guy - so maybe that is it...
    and a moderate preference to white over black..
    This one did not surprise me. I noticed a certain adversion to everyone (antisocial that I am hehe, or maybe just those pictures in particular) but slightly more so for the black men in the study.
    I think they should have used asian's instead. 

    Posted by GeniusNZ

  2. they do have one a little bit like that.....hmm
    "Your data suggest little or no automatic ethnic association with American or Foreign"
    hehe I was proud enough to get a perfect on the "american or not american landmarks" section.
    of course the test is likely to fail on us due to our not being americans.  

    Posted by GeniusNZ

  3. "Your data suggest a slight automatic preference for Light Skin relative to Dark Skin"
    ermm now I KNOW that is rubbish..
    that test is flawed - but I can guess why 

    Posted by GeniusNZ

  4. Genius, the test isn't measuring your explicit, consciously-held preferences. It's measuring things that you yourself cannot see by introspection. If you are going to claim that the test is "rubbish," then you must use something beyond introspection to prove it. 

    Posted by Jason Kuznicki

  5. Well...

    I know I invited it by answering the questions but I was hoping for this not to become an expose of my life.

    Anyway adressing the point made, I note that statistically my friends and partners and so forth have (and have always had) a strong statistical bias against light skin tone i.e. a disproportionate percentage of the population - in multiple different social circles.

    If I have a intrinsic bias towards light tone people and yet avoid them without trying one would have to wonder what exactly an implicit bias is.

    Speaking of which I imagine that a implicit bias based on "fear" (eg physical size etc) might be different from one based on "superiority" (eg feeling one is smarter) or "unfamiliarity" (cannot predict actions?) in its nature and its effects. Or you could argue an implicit bias is all the same - ie as soon as the person has one they will use generic avoidance strategies against that group whatever the origional cause.

    What do you think? 

    Posted by GeniusNZ

  6. I gave up half-way through, as I had to nurse my browser through the process.

    However, I got through a bit of it, and I discovered I had a strong automatic preference to push any button I had just pushed 3 times in a row. As the test went on and my interest waned, this dropped to 2 times in a row. Presumably they are measuring the tendency of people to follow this habit or not, but I still don't know what the test really says.


    Posted by Tennessee Leeuwenburg

  7. "It leaves me wondering exactly what the test is measuring."

    I thought it was fairly clear from the methodology. They're testing the strength of our (subconscious) cognitive association between positive concepts and age/race/etc.

    I could actually feel the difference when I was sitting the ageism test: it just felt so unnatural (and thus difficult) to try to group 'old' with positive terms, and 'young' with negative. The reverse was so much easier. That's indicative of which neural pathways of mine are the more travelled; which areas/ideas are the most strongly connected.

    Incidentally, just because you have an implicit positive association with white skin tones, doesn't mean you're a racist. More likely, it just demonstrates what sorts of stereotypes you've been most exposed to. Even a black supremist might subconsciously associate dark skin with negative concepts, simply because of the cultural climate they were raised in. (Or, again, the tests might simply be unreliable.) 

    Posted by Richard

  8. hmm....
    are black peoples eyes on average further apart than white people's? seemed that way in the study. Or maybe it was jsut one guy that gave me that impression (or I may even be immagining it). I found them slightly disturbingly far apart. 

    Posted by GeniusNZ

  9. I almost forgot... I've also written about the IAT in a different context.

    I had no implicit prejudices at all in any of the tests I took, except that I am strongly self-centered. As an ethical egoist, I can only say that it brought a smile to my face.

    Posted by Jason Kuznicki

  10. Humm... very interesting I was sligtly more preferred towards old people and more to science and male than female.

    One problem I had was interpretation of 'liberal arts' and 'science', I was initially unsure where to put Astronomy, Philosophy and Music. I've only ever heard the term 'liberal arts' used by Morticia Addams in the Addams Family, when she talks about her job skills with a placement agency. Witchcraft - bad/good?

    I was also conflicted by whether young people can be more conniving than old people, and whether old people are just more annoying when they lose bowel control... A very thought provoking exercise however. 

    Posted by Matt Oliver

  11. >They're testing the strength of our (subconscious) cognitive association between positive concepts and age/race/etc.

    Just because that is what they SAY they are doing (or even appear to be doing) doesn't mean that I what they are doing. I have designed tests and it is VERY hard to measure exactly what you want to measure. Usually people making experiments just make assumptions. There is also a massive temptation (not that I do it - but you would not know if I did) to be a bit creative with your results.

    This means you can take almost any of the psychological tests and will find they are shocking predictors of almost anything, at least at an individual level.
    the experimnt might have valid insights but it would require an incredible amount of validation to make it applicable in this context.

  12. Before you start taking the word of a computers word, look at the primicy effects of life. If one first pairs White with good and Native American with Forign and then reversis it on you then the primicy effect has set in and one is messing up based on something other then the unconsious. If White were worded with bad and Native American with American first and so on for all of the testing then the responces would be different. It seems as though the people running this are bias in what they want for their responces and instead of working on how to bring us together as a culture they are trying to tear us apart, and it is BS just like psychology as we know it today!


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