I went to a great talk at UC Berkeley’s Law School last week. The title was “Implicit Bias, Identity Anxiety, and Structural Racialization Subtexts”. One of the topics that intrigued me was the Implicit Association Test (IAT). Basically, it tests response time to making requested visual / word associations. This is used to gauge implicit bias. For example, you can more easily identify the word blue when it’s colored blue than if it were colored red. That is because we associate the color blue with the word blue. In reality that is a social construction. If everyone said the color blue was called red, it would be the opposite. Or, if we adopted the Spanish word for blue, we would associate the color with the word azul more quickly than with the word blue.
When it comes to race, it was consistently found (these were in American studies I believe) that people could more quickly assign good words to a white face and bad words to a black face than vice versa. This seemed to be the case to varying degrees among all races tested. Whites had the greatest implicit bias and blacks the least.
Important qualifications were made about the studies and the subjects. Still, in adjusting for other variables, the IAT was a good measure of implicit bias and not just about race, but with gender, citizenship, and other “hot button” identities tested. In studies of citizen versus foreigner, whites and blacks showed more bias than APIs or Latinos. Additionally it was pointed out that implicit bias has its own veils, where subjects are either unwilling or unable to reveal the bias. Thus the IAT is a useful tool for personal growth in the arena of racial identity development.
IAT is a psychological tool that is also helpful with memory, self-awareness, confidence, and other aspects of the psyche. The IAT is based on the reality that the mind forms schemas to make sense of the world. A schema is basically an organized pattern of thought. For example, in an instinctive sense, we hear a loud noise and we are intrigued or we might think – danger. In a social constructive sense, we see a black man walk down the street on a quiet street and we are intrigued or we might think danger. (Generalizing here to demonstrate the point.)
Implicit bias assessments help to identify the problem; it’s a metric. To help detach any emotional defensiveness when it’s revealed we all have bias, think of it as data to be used and not a judgment that you’re evil or something like that. We would be mentally defunct if we didn’t have bias because it is a result of human interaction. The kind of biases we have – for race versus say, pollution – is something we can change in our culture.