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Friday, February 17, 2006

Measure your racial bias!

Slate writer Jay Dixit has a piece on a clever way that psychologists have devised to measure bias. The best part is that you can take the tests yourself online--they're only about 5 minutes long, and they cover the whole spectrum of prejudice: racial bias, gender bias, age bias, sexuality bias, and more!
In the test's most popular version, the Race IAT [Implicit Association Test], subjects are shown a computer screen and asked to match positive words (love, wonderful, peace) or negative words (evil, horrible, failure) with faces of African-Americans or whites. Their responses are timed. If you tend to associate African-Americans with "bad" concepts, it will take you longer to group black faces with "good" concepts because you perceive them as incompatible. If you're consistently quicker at connecting positive words with whites and slower at connecting positive words with blacks—or quicker at connecting negative words with blacks and slower at connecting negative words with whites—you have an implicit bias for white faces over those of African-Americans...

The elegance of Banaji's test is that it doesn't let you lie. What's being measured is merely the speed of each response. You might hate the idea of having a bias against African-Americans, but if it takes you significantly longer to group black faces with good concepts, there's no way you can hide it. You can't pretend to connect words and images faster any more than a sprinter can pretend to run faster...

Banaji, now a social psychologist at Harvard, has found that 88 percent of the white subjects who take her test show some bias against blacks. The majority of all subjects also test anti-gay, anti-elderly, and anti-Arab Muslim. Many people also exhibit bias against their own group: About half of blacks test anti-black; 36 percent of Arab Muslims test anti-Arab Muslim; and 38 percent of gays show an automatic preference for heterosexuals...

People with high racial bias scores are more likely to choose a white partner to work with and more willing to cut funding for minority student groups. They're also more likely to judge minority suspects guilty in ambiguous situations and assign longer prison sentences to suspects with minority names...

The test isn't a perfect predictor, and it may be possible to beat it. Those are good reasons to limit the test's uses. But they don't justify never using it at all.

Consider Juries. Since studies show that people with high bias scores judge minorities guiltier than whites, people who test as highly biased against minorities shouldn't serve on juries in cases involving minority defendants...

In a lot of jobs—judges, police officers, welfare officers, hiring managers, and others as well—biased people can do real harm. On the other hand, if a test shows an applicant is biased, but you have no evidence that he has actually discriminated against anyone, would it really be fair not to hire him?

Before you get to the tests themselves, you must click to agree to the statement, "I am aware of the possibility of encountering interpretations of my IAT test performance with which I may not agree. Knowing this, I wish to proceed." I had an ongoing argument with a sociology teacher in college about Stanley Milgram's "tolerance for electrocuting others" test, which she declared ethically unacceptable because of the dismaying information it revealed to its participants; the bias test offers similar dangers. But isn't the point of social science to teach us more about ourselves?

As for my results, I show a moderate bias against blacks, a moderate preference for Judaism compared to other religions, and a moderate association of males with science and females with aiberal lrts versus the other way around.

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