Monday, April 10, 2006

But Tell Me What You Really Think

I tried an interesting series of little online exercises recently, called Implicit Association Tests. Designed by scientists at Harvard, they are meant to determine what one's underlying preferences or attitudes are about certain subjects. For example, in the test for determining if you have a preference for black people's faces or white people's, as explained on the BBC News site:
  • Users put positive and negative words, such as "failure", "glorious", "wonderful" and "nasty" into categories of "good" and "bad", then do the same with images of black and white faces.
  • By responding to the prompts as quickly as possible, the test aims to side-step what's known as "cognitive control" - the brief, but significant, time lapse we need to give an "acceptable" answer rather than a truly honest one.
  • Depending on the magnitude of the result, respondents are judged to have either "little or no bias" or a bias rated as "slight", "moderate" or "strong".

Personally, the test results or me indicated that I have "implicit" preferences for gay people over straight people, black people over white people and Richard Nixon over G.W. Bush (now there's a case of weighing two evils if I ever saw one). None of this overly surprised me, considering my political beliefs and background. I was a little bit surprised at my slight bias in favour of black people at first, since I'm convinced white racism is so prevalent in United States society that we must all internalize it by default, but not overly so, considering both my upbringing with a semi-radical black stepfather and a general aversion to, as they say, The Man.

It does seem, however, that a lot of people are surprised by their results, and this has touched off a lot of dialogue and self-examination, particuarly regarding the race test results. Of course, as even the designers of the test admit, the results may not be entirely accurate. The methodology of the tests have been questioned by other scientists, naturally, and taking a quick online quiz based on reaction times is not exactly an exhaustive, controlled analysis. But, even if you don't necessarily believe the tests to be completely accurate or comprehensive, as I don't, they do make for good conversation pieces and tools for confronting one's own attitudes.

Try them yourself here, and let me know what you think.

Via: Cooper King's blog

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