The Situationist

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Banaji & Greenwald on Edge – Part III

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 19, 2008

Mahzarin Banaji & Anthony GreenwaldThere is a great video interview of Tony Greewald and Situationist contributor Mahzarin Banaji on Edge. We’re posting parts of the transcript in several bite-sized installments. Part I is here; Part II is here.

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GREENWALD: The race IAT was critical. It is the version of the IAT that got the widest attention, and it is the one we would most often demonstrate in lectures. That is another of the IAT’s virtues: you can give a group demonstration and show a room full of people all at the same time that they have this shared difficulty in giving the same response to Category A and to Category B, but if you the switch the sides of the two categories, it becomes very easy.

We, and also many of our colleagues, have been very motivated by the discovery that the IAT reveals these associations with race effect in our own heads. The effect does not show up in everyone, but in perhaps 70 to 75 percent of those who have tried the test. Some are upset by this observation. They are concerned that the test is, in effect, accusing them of being prejudiced. That reaction has led us to take pains to distinguish what this test measures from what is ordinarily meant by prejudice.

Prejudice is ordinarily understood as a state of mind that leads to intentional discriminatory behavior. People who have no intent to discriminate and no dislike of a racial group might think that their IAT result was characterizing them as prejudiced. We have repeatedly said, no, that it is not what the result means. In describing what the IAT measures, we have been careful to use phrases such as ‘implicit attitude,’ ‘implicit preference,’ and ‘automatic preference,’ while avoiding the unqualified word ‘prejudice’. Incidentally, if we did describe the test as measuring prejudice, then we would be accusing ourselves of being prejudiced.

BANAJI: One of the great insights this test has provided for me is the ability to look at what might be evolutionarily “old ways” in which we tend to behave when left to our own devices. Our social preferences must have some roots in our early social groups and interactions. From having evolved in a world where people on the other side of the river were either people you killed or people who would kill you. We now live in a world where we have to outsource to those same people on the other side of the river! We have to be friends enough with them to understand their culture so that we can get them to do things with us and to think about our common fate.

It is one thing to say, “The law says you should do this or that.” It is quite another thing to say, Well, if we are really smart, and if we are really the adaptive creatures that we are, we are going to look at the ways in which we behave and see that they are not necessarily to our advantage. And as we learn we will change. And we will change in all of the ways in which we are going to need to. Like the work we need to do and will do to solve our environmental problems. Or our health problems. Eating too much is a problem because our bodies evolved in a world where food was far less abundant that it has come to be (for many people in the world). We cope by thinking about calorie intake and output in new ways. I think one of the tests of human intelligence will be whether we can take insights that are inconvenient truths about our minds, turn them around, and use such knowledge to create a better society – by which I mean, one that is line with our consciously chosen aspirations, rather than one we are being driven toward out of ignorance of who we are and our past.

GREENWALD: The IAT provides a useful window into some otherwise difficult-to-detect contents of our minds. In some cases, we find things we did not know were there. It may be “an inconvenient truth” that what’s there is not what we thought was there or want to be there. But I think it is generally something we can come to grips with.

BANAJI: We have to believe that everyone is to blame, or rather everybody is responsible. It is not just the media. It is not just your parents. Instead, we find to be attractive those metaphors that come from air borne pollutants. What our minds acquire comes from the stuff that is hanging around in the atmosphere. It is in the water. It is in the air. When that is the case, you cannot hold individual people responsible. You can hold larger units and larger groups of people responsible in the same way that we do in order to solve the problem of environmental damage.

To come back to the test, I think an intuitive way to understand what it does is to imagine working with a deck of playing cards. If I ask you to sort the cards into two piles—red cards on one side; black cards on the other—you should be able to do so relatively easily. Let’s say I measure the time it takes you to put the red cards to the right and the black cards to the left and use a stopwatch to time you. Then I say, “All right, I am going to time you again. This time put the hearts and clubs to one side, and the spades and diamonds to the other”, and I start the stopwatch again. . We would all understand intuitively that the second sorting should take longer than the first. And the difference in time is indicative of the cognitive ease of the first relative to the second.

Like that, the IAT is trying to capture the difference between two sortings. When we encounter two things that have not been paired together very much in our experience, it takes a little longer to put them together because they are strangers to each other, making the task difficult. Working from this assumption, the IAT requests pairings of say Obama and good and Hillary and good and looks at the relative speed of judgment and the error rates. What is nifty is that you can replace Obama and Hillary with anything you want. If you are interested in looking at your preference for Coca-Cola versus Pepsi-Cola, you can adapt the test to do that.

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For a eight-minute review of IAT research by Scientific American (including clips of both Mahzarin Banaji and Brian Nosek, who each explain how the biases can operate outside of, or contrary to, one’s intentions), watch the video below.

Posted in Implicit Associations, Video | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Banaji & Greenwald on Edge – Part II

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 14, 2008

There is a great video interview of Tony Greewald and Situationist contributor Mahzarin Banaji on Edge. We’ll post parts of the transcript in severalMahzarin Banaji & Anthony Greenwald bite-sized installments. Part I is here.

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GREENWALD: At various points in my career I have worked on some very interesting questions, such as: How is voluntary action controlled? What is the self? How does the mind function unconsciously? On that last one, I surprised myself by discovering that visual stimuli, flashed so briefly as to remain consciously unseen, can influence behavior. In starting this research I had no idea that was true. In doing the research, I found that we can learn new things by creating new methods. I had created new methods for studying subliminal perception, and shortly after than Mahzarin and I started working on developing methods to investigate things going on outside of awareness that could influence social behavior.

We were very influenced by cognitive psychologists’ work on implicit cognition—which is the label for knowledge expressed implicitly in behavior even when the person performing the behavior was unaware of having the knowledge. We were looking for ways to study the implicit aspects of social behavior. An important moment came in 1995, when we performed an experiment that we had conceived a few years earlier and written into one brief paragraph of a proposal to the National Science Foundation.

In that experiment subjects gave a response on a computer keyboard with the index finger of the right hand to words that named pleasant things and to names of flowers. With left hand they were to respond to another two categories—words that named unpleasant things and insect names. This was a very easy task. Then we made one minor change: We switched hands for the flower and insect names. Now subjects had to give the same response to pleasant words and insect names and a different response to unpleasant words and flower names. Immediately the task became hugely difficult. The slowing on a response-by-response basis was on the order of 300 milliseconds, which was a magnitude of impact nobody could have expected. We certainly did not expect it.

I was the first subject in this experiment. When I experienced this slowing I found to my surprise that I could not overcome it—repeating the task did not make me faster. If I tried to go faster, I just started making errors when I was trying to give the same response to flower names and unpleasant words. This was a mind-opener.

About a month later, I modified the task by replacing the flowers and insects with the names of famous White and Black people. My thought was, if this works for flowers and insects, maybe we could use the same task to measure something that we had not yet begun to call implicit race attitudes. To my dismay, but also with some excitement, I discovered that the names of famous Black people were functioning much like the names of insects. I had a difficult time responding rapidly when I had to give the same response to famous Black people and to pleasant words. Shortly thereafter, I persuaded Mahzarin to start using this task in her lab at Yale. One of the students whom she brought along on this work was [Situationist contributor] Brian Nosek, who ever since has been a very important collaborator in this research.

BANAJI: What is remarkable about this test, which is called the Implicit Association Test—the IAT—is that it allows you to be a subject in your own experiment. Most scientists do not have the remarkable experience of being the object of study in their own research.

If you are a physicist, you cannot be the material object that you are studying. If you are a psychologist, you cannot be the subject because you know the hypothesis. But when you study the unconscious aspects of the mind, you can! You can have the experience of having your hand NOT do what your mind is willing it to do. That may be part of the appeal of the test.

How does the test work? Well, I intend to associate white with good as quickly as I associate black with good—that is my conscious goal—but I fail to do that. [See brief video above for quick summary of how IAT works.] It has to be fascinating to anybody to discover that they cannot do something simple that they will themselves to do. When we failed our own tests, we decided that this was of course for the scientific journals, but also for wider access. When in 1998 we decided that this was probably worth sharing with a wider audience than our own students, we asked, What would Galileo do, and we put it on the web.

We were stunned that within the first month with no advertising on our part, just media coverage — we had 40,000 completed tests. We had clearly struck a chord or a nerve (depending on the participant’s response!).

The test is unusual in that it provokes a reaction of surprise, even astonishment. It is both a tool to understand what goes on invisibly in our minds but it is also a catalyst for insight. And once it has suggested to us and we may contain the views of multitudes, we can ask “Am I leading my life the way I want to?” It is a unique test in that regard.

Posted in Implicit Associations, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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