Should we test our biases or is there no need? After all, we don’t stereotype, we are not racists, we do not prefer beautiful people over not so beautiful (beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right?)
Young over old.
Thin over fat.
Men over women.
But do you know for sure?
Discover Your Bias or Implicit Association Test (IAT)
The researchers at Project Implicit at Harvard have developed a test (IAT or Implicit Associaton Test) that can help you find out for sure.
The test has been around for over two decades and has helped people discover the biases they may or may not even know are there.
My Own Bias
The first time I took this test was about 10 years ago during one of the diversity workshops I attended when I worked for the United Nations.
I discovered a bias I didn’t know I had. Namely, I had a “slight implicit stereotype preference for males than females.”
But what does having an implicit bias (slight or otherwise) actually entail?
Here is the explanation from the test’s FAQs.
“An implicit stereotype is one that is relatively inaccessible to conscious awareness and/or control.
Even if you say that men and women are equally good at math, it is possible that you associate math more strongly with men without being actively aware of it. In this case, we would say that you have an implicit math + men stereotype.”
While I was horrified, it was a bit of a revelation. It clarified why I always chose male mentors, why I automatically trusted male authority over female, etc.
It is what designer Paula Scher is talking about in this article:
“But in most instances he will be awarded confidence, and I will have to earn mine. It’s the only way to describe it, it’s a free pass. Women do it too by the way, it’s not just men who are guilty, I have women clients who do the same thing.”
But thanks to this test and raising my awareness of my subconscious bias, I was able to work on it.
It was an unfounded personal bias, probably to do with the environment I grew up in, my life experiences, the fact that I have received more guidance and assistance from male figures as a child and a young woman. Later on, I found employment in a male-dominated environment, etc.
But of course, who wants to live with such bias, even if it is implicit? Was it affecting me as a manager? A friend? A parent? Does it mean I am prejudiced?
The test shows that implicit biases are not necessarily endorsed and that may even be contradictory to what one consciously believes, it also shows that most often, people with implicit biases don’t act on them in any obvious way.
But once I became aware of my bias, I was able to recognize it, work on it, and make it disappear. In fact, I would argue that recognizing and accepting it was enough to overcome it.
So, what I am trying to say is – take the test.
It is fun, and you may learn something new about yourself, and I am all about leading an examined life!
How Does the Bias Test Work?
When doing the test, you are asked to quickly sort words into designed categories on the left and right side of your computer screen.
It is a test you should take when you have some alone time because it is quite lengthy and requires concentration.
“The test measures the strength of associations between concepts (e.g., black people, white people, gay people) and evaluations (e.g., good, bad) or stereotypes (e.g., athletic, clumsy, fat, thin). The main idea is that making a response is easier when closely related items share the same response key.
The test has five main parts relating to:
- the concepts (e.g., fat people, thin people)
- words relating to the evaluation (e.g., good, bad)
- both concept and evaluation words.
- the concepts switches.
“For example, one has an implicit preference for thin people relative to fat people if they are faster to categorize words when Thin People and Good share a response key and Fat People and Bad share a response key, relative to the reverse.”
This is just crazy, but it works.
I take the test every now and then to see whether anything has changed.
I love to keep an open mind.
The Bias Test FAQs
Below, I am summarizing some of the Frequently Asked Questions, but if you have some time, go to the link and read it in more detail. It is such an engaging and informative read.
- What is an attitude?
An attitude is your evaluation of some concept (e.g., person, place, thing, or idea). An explicit attitude is the kind of attitude that you deliberately think about and report. For example, you could tell someone whether or not you like math. Implicit attitudes are positive and negative evaluations that are much less accessible to our conscious awareness and/or control. Even if you say that you like math (your explicit attitude), it is possible that you associate math with negativity without being actively aware of it. In this case, we would say that your implicit attitude toward math is negative.
- What are implicit and explicit stereotypes?
Stereotypes are the belief that most members of a group have some characteristic. Some examples of stereotypes are the belief that women are nurturing or the belief that police officers like donuts. An implicit stereotype is one that is relatively inaccessible to conscious awareness and/or control. Even if you say that men and women are equally good at math, it is possible that you associate math more strongly with men without being actively aware of it.
- Might my preference for one group over another be a simple ingroup preference?
A simple preference for the ingroup might partially explain implicit bias for White respondents, the majority of whom show an implicit preference for White people. However, it is also more than that. For example, about a third of Black participants show an implicit preference for White people relative to Black people which can’t be explained as an ingroup bias. In addition, there are plenty of tests on which people prefer one group or the other even when they do not belong to either group. For example, Asian participants tend to show an implicit preference for White people relative to Black people.
In this sense the IAT might also reflect what is learned from a culture that does not regard Black people as highly as White people.
Voice of Racism
Related to discovering our own biases (whether related to racism or not), here is an unusual resource that does a marvelous job raising awareness about different types of racism.
It is called Voice of Racism and it is created by the New Zealand Human Rights Commison. It is quite a disturbing collection of the “everyday racism felt by real people” in New Zealand.
Before you enter the site you get this warning.
Once you “enter the experience” you listen to dozens of racial slurs and seemingly innocent comments experienced by real people who have shared it for the project.
It is quite a difficult experience, but it is worth listening to because, for every sentence, there is a link to “Why is this racist?”
In fact, when I played it for some of my friends, that was the most frequent question. Some comments just did not seem racist for those who have never experienced any discrimination firsthand.
Here is a screenshot of one example. It is such an amazing tool for raising awareness and combing through ignorance.
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
And finally, for everyone who hasn’t read it yet, this is a book that will make you realize just how precious, even if terribly intolerant and selfish we are. It will show how we clawed our way to the top of the food chain by holding onto common stories and working together in large groups.
Once you read it, there is no going back. You are both appaled and in awe of Homo Sapiens.
If you don’t feel like reading, here is a link to the online course.
I did both.