Test Your Implicit Bias with Science

February 20, 2015 by Independent Lens in

Implicit Bias Test Series of Faces

Created by Project Implicit, a research collaboration between scientists at Harvard, the University of Virginia, and the University of Washington, this Implicit Association Test (IAT) aims to “[measure] the strength of associations between concepts (e.g., black people, gay people) and evaluations (e.g., good, bad) or stereotypes (e.g., athletic, clumsy)” that remain “outside of conscious awareness and control.” The test, which has been taken by more than two million people, reveals that even the most consciously tolerant of us may hold prejudices, and while you may be surprised by the results, you’ll be in good company.

The fast-moving test only takes about five minutes to complete, but regardless of your results, you’ll be thinking about your implicit associations for some time. The test is featured prominently in the new documentary American Denial, which premieres on Independent Lens Monday, February 23 at 10pm [check local listings]. Read on for more.

Go here for the Implicit Association Test >>

Here’s more about the test on Wikipedia, including some controversies (some of which have been addressed) and debates.

Chris Mooney, writing in the Washington Post Wonkblog, shares a map based on results of the test that shows where more bias was shown.

Mooney also adds an interesting point: “A cautionary note: The people who have taken the IAT at the Project Implicit website are not a random sample of Americans, either nationally or on a state-by-state basis. Rather, they’re people who, for some reason, chose to take an online test measuring their implicit biases — which may actually mean they are less biased than average. (After all, at least they wanted to know how biased they are.)” Ultimately, Mooney concludes, “looking at a map like this one tells us something pretty crucial to our understanding of racial bias: It is everywhere, from north to south, from Maine to California. It is present among liberals and conservatives, men and women, young and old. We have a huge amount of work to do.”

Reenactment photo of doctor taking the Implicit Association Test
A doctor taking the test, from American Denial. Vital Pictures, Inc.

Implicit bias tests aren’t just for gauging racial bias; there are tests about sexuality, religion, weight, and more. A recent article on Fusion talks about an interesting trend among law enforcement agencies, from local police departments to the Department of Justice and the FBI, aimed at reducing bias among officers. The piece uses singer Susan Boyle as an example of appearance-based bias.


250 agencies across the country have already received the training — including cities like Detroit and San Francisco — and there’s been a big uptick in interest since the Michael Brown case in Ferguson. The training costs anywhere from a few thousand dollars for a group of patrol officers — to $16,000 for a train-the-trainer program for big departments.

“It’s really important that officers across the nation be exposed to the modern science of bias,” she said. “It stops shaking the finger at them, and the worst thing that’s said in the training is you’re human like everybody else. Let’s talk about how your mind works.”

Fridell says implicit bias can influence whether cops think someone is suspicious, and potentially lead them to conduct searches or even use force against certain demographic groups. There’s race, but also factors like gender, sexual orientation and economic status. And the biases can lead officers to be under-vigilant and overlook real threats.

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