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Test Your Prejudices Online: Project Implicit Also Offers Some Suggestions on How We Can Overcome Biases

By Pack, Thomas | Information Today, March 2007 | Go to article overview

Test Your Prejudices Online: Project Implicit Also Offers Some Suggestions on How We Can Overcome Biases


Pack, Thomas, Information Today


After Mel Gibson and Michael Richards made headlines last year with their racist rants, many bloggers and print media pundits observed that we citizens of the 21st century may like to believe that we are more enlightened than people of previous ages, but most of us still harbor deeply ingrained prejudices.

For instance, on the Concurring Opinions Web site, a post observed that Richards' rant is "symptomatic of a much, much larger, ubiquitous undercurrent of racism in our society, one [that] lurks to some degree in all of us, threatening to bubble to the surface under pressure" (www.concurringopinions.com/archives/2006/11/the_little_bit.html).

The Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson wrote, "I'm not saying that evil lurks in the hearts of all men and women. But I am saying that, as a society, we still haven't purged ourselves of racial prejudices and animosities. We've buried them under layers of sincere enlightenment and insincere political correctness, but they're still down there, eating at our souls" (www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/ 11/21/AR2006112101221.html).

If you want to see what's eating at your soul, visit the Web site for Project Implicit (https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit), which offers online tests designed by psychological researchers to assess a range of biases that may be lurking inside you.

How It Works

"Project Implicit blends basic research and educational outreach in a virtual laboratory at which visitors can examine their own hidden biases," according to the site. It functions "as a hands-on science museum exhibit, allowing web visitors to experience the manner in which human minds display the effects of stereotypic and prejudicial associations acquired from their socio-cultural environment."

Project Implicit, a collaborative effort among the researchers at Harvard University, the University of Virginia, and the University of Washington, was launched in 1998. Since then, site visitors have completed more than 4.5 million demonstration Implicit Association Tests (IATs). Today, Web users complete about 15,000 tests each week.

IATs generally measure how quickly you match symbols, words, or photos with concepts. The idea is that the more closely you associate a concept with a symbol, word, or photo, the faster you will be able to match them. So if you are quicker to associate a white, thin, or straight person with a positive concept than you are a black, overweight, or gay person, the IAT detects a possible bias.

For instance, the Race IAT starts by asking you to classify white and black faces as either European-American or African-American. Then the IAT asks you to classify such words as love, failure, happy, hurt, glorious, awful, joy, and horrible as either good or bad.

Then you sort words and faces into African-American/Good or European-American/Bad. As before, you determine whether the words are good or bad and whether the faces are African-American or European-American. So the word "happy" goes into the first category, and a photo of a white person goes into the second. In another task, you sort words and faces into European-American/Good or African-American/Bad categories.

As the Web site says, the IAT reveals your "'automatic preference for European American' if you responded faster when European American faces and Good words were classified with the same key than when African American faces and Good words were classified with the same key. Depending on the magnitude of your result, your automatic preference may be described as 'slight,' 'moderate,' 'strong,' or 'little to no preference.' "

Test a Range of Prejudices

Since its inception, Project Implicit has expanded from a single site with four tests to multiple sites with assessments for "more than a dozen different varieties of implicit bias as well as attitudes and beliefs toward social groups and politics.

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Test Your Prejudices Online: Project Implicit Also Offers Some Suggestions on How We Can Overcome Biases
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