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Test shows many unaware of their racial bias

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Results of the Implicit Association Test—a tool introduced more than a decade ago that has shown to be effective at predicting social behavior—show 70 percent of those who took the test answered in such a way as to indicate a preference for white people. In contrast, in self-report or survey situations, generally fewer than 20 percent of respondents indicate a preference for whites.

U. WASHINGTON (US)—A mostly unconscious preference for white people compared to blacks still persists, despite the belief that racial bias is largely a thing of the past, according to new study findings.

Results of the Implicit Association Test—a tool introduced more than a decade ago that has shown to be effective at predicting social behavior—show 70 percent of those who took the test answered in such a way as to indicate a preference for white people. In contrast, in self-report or survey situations, generally fewer than 20 percent of respondents indicate a preference for whites.

Researchers led by Anthony Greenwald, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington, say the test has significantly greater validity than self-reports in the socially sensitive topics of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and age.

The study, which is a compilation of 122 published and unpublished reports of 184 different research studies, appears in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

“In socially sensitive areas, especially black-white interracial behavior, the test had significantly greater predictive value than self-reports,” Greenwald says. “This finding establishes the Implicit Association Test’s value in research to understand the roots of race and other discrimination. What was especially surprising was how ineffective standard self-report measures were in the areas in which the test measures have been of greatest interest—predicting interracial behavior.”

Greenwald created the test in 1998. He and Mahzarin Banaji, a psychology professor at Harvard University, and Brian Nosek, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, further developed it. The test has been used in more than 1,000 research studies around the world. More than 10 million versions of the test have been completed at a Web site where they are available as a self-administer demonstration.

The research looks at studies covering nine different areas—consumer preference, black-white interracial behavior, personality differences, clinical phenomena, alcohol and drug use, non-racial intergroup behavior, gender and sexual orientation, close relationships, and political preferences—and found that in all nine areas, the test was useful in predicting social behavior.

Studies in the research came from a number of countries including Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Poland, and the United States, and looked at a wide variety of topics.

“The Implicit Association Test is controversial because many people believe that racial bias is largely a thing of the past,” Greenwald says. “The test’s finding of a widespread, automatic form of race preference violates people’s image of tolerance and is hard for them to accept. When you are unaware of attitudes or stereotypes, they can unintentionally affect your behavior. Awareness can help to overcome this unwanted influence.”

Researchers from Southern Methodist University and Northwestern University coauthored the study. The National Science Foundation, National Institute of Mental Health, the Third Millennium Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation funded the research.

University of Washington news: www.washington.edu

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