The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘Implicit Associations’

Take the Policy IAT

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 17, 2009

If you haven’t already (or even if you have), we invite to take, the “Policy IAT.”  We urge  individuals of all political and ideological orientations to participate in the on-line test designed to examine whether and to what extent people have implicit preferences for certain types of policy options.  Please encourage your friends (and, to those of you who are bloggers, your readers) to participate as well.

To learn more or to take the Policy IAT (a roughly 15-minute task), click here.

Posted in Ideology, Implicit Associations, Public Policy | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Mahzarin Banaji’s Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 13, 2009

Mahzarin Banaji

From the Harvard Crimson, by Weiqi Zhang, here is a fascinating article titled “A Chance Road to Harvard” about the remarkable journey of Situationist contributor Mahzarin Banaji.

* * *

Fifteen-year-old Mahzarin R. Banaji says she dreamed of living the adventurous life of a secretary upon graduating from high school because she believed that further academic pursuit was useless and was thirsting for an independent life away from her home in Secunderabad, India.

But a little less than a decade later—after a series of self-described “fortuitous” events—Banaji found herself a student at Ohio State University, studying for a Ph.D. in social psychology. And in 2002 she became a Harvard professor at the invitation of University President Drew G. Faust, then-dean of the newly-founded Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Studies.

Today Banaji is the Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics in the psychology department, where she has pioneered the study of unconscious prejudice. “Professor Banaji is one of the most celebrated, most cited, and most influential social psychologists of her generation for good reason—her work on unconscious bias has revolutionized how we think about the topic,” Psychology professor Daniel T. Gilbert wrote in an e-mail.

In his best-selling book “Blink,” Malcolm Gladwell devoted 12 pages to Banaji’s research on the Implicit Association Test, a methodology created by Banaji’s dissertation advisor, Anthony G. Greenwald, in 1994. The test is designed to measure the strength of automatic association and is an important tool in social psychology today.

“Individuals are created and shaped by social circumstances far more than they or their observers are able to recognize,” Banaji wrote in an unpublished biography for the Guggenheim Foundation. “Mainly in retrospect, I see my career as a textbook case of how fortuitous circumstances and responsive bystanders eased the path for my growth.”

THE ROAD TO THE IVORY TOWER

After a few late-night talks with her mother, who never attended college herself, Banaji suspended her plans to enter the typing pool and agreed to give college a try for one semester, after which the two agreed that Banaji would be free to choose her own path. That one semester proved to be worthwhile for Banaji. Initially attracted to Nizam College for its co-educational system and proximity to the largest cricket stadium in Hyderabad, Banaji says she found the cosmopolitan social and academic environment a liberating experience. Her ambition of becoming a secretary aborted, she went on to pursue an M.Phil/Ph.D. in general psychology at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

Mind-opening as JNU would prove to be, Banaji never finished her study there. “There are few occasions in one’s life when a course of action presents itself with such clarity that there is nothing to do but pursue it,” she wrote in her Guggenheim biography. While she was on the train home from New Delhi for the holidays, Banaji purchased five volumes of the Handbook of Social Psychology edited by Lindzey and Aronson, for five dollars, lured not so much by the books’ content as by their low price. By the time she arrived home 24 hours later, she had already devoured an entire volume. She says the combination of a focus on social process with an experimental approach presented by the book particularly appealed to her.

A year later, Banaji boarded a plane to Columbus, Ohio, leaving the psychophysics and Marxist sociology she had been studying in India behind. After receiving her Ph.D. from Ohio State in social psychology, Banaji traveled around the country as research assistant, instructor, and post-doc fellow in several different institutes, before she finally settled at Yale to study unconscious bias.

When the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Studies was founded in 2001, Banaji accepted the invitation to teach at Harvard, becoming a professor in the Department of Psychology and the Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at Radcliffe.

‘THE MADONNA OF OUR FIELD’

Reflecting on her unusual career path, Banaji says she is reluctant to use her own life as a model for students. But she says she is a strong advocate for women in science careers.

Her implicit association experiments have shown that even female scientists can unconsciously associate men with terms like “astronomy” and “chemistry” and women with “music” and “history.”

Former University President Lawrence H. Summers once quoted Banaji on unconscious prejudice against women in science, recommending people to visit the Web site for the Implicit Association Test, which is maintained by Banaji and her former student Brian A. Nosek, now a psychology professor at the University of Virginia. Just months before, Summers had made his now-infamous comments that attributed the dearth of women in top science careers to “issues of intrinsic aptitude.”

Knowing this prejudice well, Banaji says she always goes out of her way to support aspiring female students in science.

“For younger women whose identity as women in science is not fully formed, I need to keep an eye out,” Banaji says. “If somebody like that comes along and asks, ‘I wanna give up mathematics for social studies,’ [I would suggest to her] ‘well, hold on, maybe you should go. But maybe you shouldn’t.’”

“As a young woman, I cannot tell you how she has influenced the generations after her,” Dana R. Carney, a former post-doctoral student of Banaji’s, wrote in an e-mail. “She is like the Madonna of our field: masculine, feminine, fierce, warm, irreverent, creative, inspiring.” Carney is now an assistant professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business. She says she still remembers listening to Banaji’s “mesmerizing” speech as a first year graduate student, five years before she became her post-doc student. “I remember going up to her…and I shook her hand, and I told her that it’s so rare as a young woman you’ve got to model yourself after those people that sort of defy gender stereotype,” Carney recalls. “She is just a scientist. She is not a woman. She is not a man. She is just so inspiring.”

CRITICAL, BUT CARING

In 2006, Banaji journeyed to Philadelphia to pay tribute to her Ph.D. adviser Greenwald, who was receiving the Distinguished Scientist Award, a prestigious prize given by the Society of Experimental Social Psychology. Banaji delivered an address recounting her memory of Greenwald. “It made the entire room of five or six hundred people cry,” Carney says, referring to Banaji’s speech. “It was just mind blowing.”

“Tony Greenwald changed my life,” Banaji says. “He didn’t care what I knew, or how little I knew, or how poor a writer I was…he just wouldn’t let go. If I wrote a draft and I gave it to him he would mark it again, but the 13th draft he would still mark it. Every draft, I saved them all.”

Banaji attributes her pedagogical skill in part to Greenwald, saying that he has had an important impact on how she interacts with her students. Greenwald, however, says he disagrees.

“As a teacher, she has abilities that I barely comprehend,” he wrote in an e-mail. “I have no idea how she acquired her skill, other than to be sure that she didn’t get it from me.”

Greenwald does say that both he and Banaji require their advisees to learn how to thrive while receiving more criticism than praise, as they share the belief that perseverance in the face of criticism is a trait shared by almost all successful scientists.

“She just really had a unique combination of being incredibly rigorous and demanding, but at the same time you knew she supported you and that her heart was with you,” said Curtis D. Hardin, Banaji’s first Ph.D. student and now a professor at Brooklyn College. “For one thing, any paper, from paper in the class to thesis, was met with just incredibly detailed line by line comments, suggestions, questions…this is probably the biggest sign of love because it takes a lot to do that.”

Hardin adds that Banaji and her husband always open their home to graduate students. “She taught me how to cook simple Indian dishes, and we watched elections together. Their company was just so good,” Hardin says. “They knew what it was like to be a starting graduate student.”

Banaji is deeply involved in the undergraduate experience at Harvard, too. As Head Tutor for the Psychology Department, she leads a committee on undergraduate instruction and oversees all students writing theses. She also has three freshman advisees.

“Even though she’s my academic advisor she would talk to me like my old-time friend, and she really cares about how I am doing and my emotional state,” says Nam Hee Kim ’12, one of her advisees.

Looking back, Banaji says that her teaching experience in India at the age of five might have shaped how she communicates with students today. After Banaji and her sister were born, their mother, a school teacher, became unhappy that she had to stay at home and could not teach anymore. She had a carpenter make three small tables and very little chairs, and opened a school in the house.

“I would be home, so I had to deal with all the kids. So my mother would say, ‘you are five years old, you teach this four-year old how to write letters. Every year I was teaching somebody one year younger than I,” Banaji says. “By the time I was eight, I had three years of teaching experience.”

“Now teaching graduate students, you know, is my life,” she adds.

* * *

For a closely related Situationist post, see “The Situation of a Situationist – Mahzarin Banaji.”  Go to Project Implicit here.  Take the Policy IAT here.

To review all of the previous Situationist posts discussing implicit associations click on the “Implicit Associations” category in the right margin, or, for a list of such posts, click here.

Posted in Classic Experiments, Education, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Mispredicting Our Reactions to Racism

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 9, 2009

For more evidence of how of the power of situation and the illusion of disposition, read the following mashup of articles from CNN, Canadian Press, and Associated Press.

* * *

It’s one thing to hear reports of racial slurs being hurled at individuals or to see such epithets in literature or as graffiti on walls. But how would you react if someone used such language in your presence?

Shocked. Disgusted. Outraged. Even horrified, some might say. However, a Canadian-led study suggests real-life responses to prejudice don’t always reflect how people think they will react.

In the study, which appears in Friday’s edition of the journal Science, undergraduate students at Toronto’s York University took part in experiments which cast them in distinct roles: those observing racist remarks first-hand and others who read about such a scenario or watched it unfold on video.

Students were led into a room and seated in a preselected chair thinking they were waiting for an experiment to begin. They were followed into the room by two males posing as participants: one black and one white.

Shortly after, the black male remarks that he has left his cellphone in the hallway, and on his way out to retrieve it gently bumps the white male’s leg with his foot.

Once the black person has left, the white male who’s part of the experiment makes a remark that is either classified as an extreme racist comment [used the N-word], a moderate racist comment or he says nothing at all. The extreme comment used was “clumsy nigger” and the moderate racist comment was “typical, I hate it when black people do that.”

Participants were asked to complete a questionnaire to rate their feelings in the moment and then asked to select a partner to complete a task.

Those who read about or watched the scenario were asked to predict how someone seeing this happen would feel, and whether they would select the white male or black male as a partner.

This group of observers – dubbed “forecasters” – believed people who heard the slurs would be very upset and more likely to pick the black person over the white person.

But in reality, the racist remarks didn’t affect those who heard them first-hand – called “experiencers” – and they were more likely (63 per cent) to select the white person as their lab partner.

“We definitely were surprised,” said lead author and York psychology professor Kerry Kawakami.  “It’s like these nasty racist comments aren’t having an effect.”

“We thought that people would have positive illusions about how they would respond to racism, so that they would predict that they would be much more upset than they were and that they would avoid the white racist more. But we were surprised that it had no impact at all.”

“It didn’t affect them emotionally at all and it didn’t affect their choice of who they wanted to work with at all. Those findings are shocking to everyone in my lab.”

* * *

Kawakami said they are exploring several possibilities as to why individuals would react with such indifference to racist remarks.

One theory is perhaps the nature of the situation was so threatening for participants they simply suppressed all thoughts and emotions. Another is that while people think they’re not prejudiced on a controlled level, on a non-conscious, internal level, they may actually have a lot of negative associations with blacks, she said.

“You’re not going to react negatively towards that person because they’re saying things that you wouldn’t say but that you still might somehow – at least on a non-conscious level – think are true.”

Eliot Smith, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University, co-wrote a commentary on the study with Diane Mackie, a psychology professor at University of California, Santa Barbara.

The pair suggest the findings are an example of what is referred to as “a failure of affective forecasting” – people who improperly predict how they would feel and therefore act in imagined or future situations.

Research by Smith and Mackie has explored how emotions affect memberships of social groups that are important to individuals, such as a woman who feels pride if another woman gets a promotion. Smith said it struck them that the new study’s results might be a reflection of that process.

“We definitely found the result very interesting and surprising . . . and we just wanted to put this little twist on it, the idea that sometimes when our emotions do surprise us, it’s a way that we can learn kind of maybe for the first time, what identity we’re in in a particular situation.”

Research also reveals situational cues like things in the environment or that people say can also lead people to switch from one identity to another, he said.

* * *

The study is consistent with decades of psychology research pointing to the same thing: People are really bad at predicting their own actions in socially sensitive situations.

“That point is getting renewed attention as researchers develop more extensive evidence establishing reasons to distrust self-report measures concerning racial attitudes,” said Anthony Greenwald, professor of psychology at the University of Washington, who was not involved with the study.

The racism study harkens back to Stanley Milgram’s famous experiment that began in the early 1960s, in which most people obeyed orders to deliver electric shocks to an innocent person in the next room. Many psychiatrists had predicted that the majority of subjects would stop when the victim protested, but this was not the case.

“The failure of people to confront or do anything about racist comments is pretty widespread in the real world,” said . . . Smith . . . . “People may feel uncomfortable if someone makes a remark like this, but it’s rare they will actually confront them.”

More recent work by Greenwald and colleagues shows that most people — between 75 and 80 percent — have implicit, non-overt prejudices against blacks.

What is responsible for these attitudes? Experts say one culprit is images in television, news and film that portray blacks in a negative light.

“I don’t think what’s in people’s heads is going to change until the environment that places these things in their head has changed,” Greenwald said.

* * *

“It’s important to remind people that just because a black man has been elected as president doesn’t mean racism is no longer a problem or issue in the States,” Kawakami added.

* * *

To learn more about implicit associations, click here. To review previous Situationist posts discussing implicit associations click on the “Implicit Associations” category in the right margin or, for a list of such posts, click here. For a collection of Situationist posts discussing Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Illusions, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of a Situationist – Mahzarin Banaji

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 24, 2008

Billy Baker wrote a nice article, titled “She Explores Inner Workings of Bias,” about Situationist contributor Mahzarin Banaji in last week’s Boston Globe.  Here are some excerpts.

* * *

For two decades, Banaji has been a leading researcher into the nature of our implicit, unconscious biases, particularly as they unfold in a social context. Bias, she has found through her experiments into memory and its associations, is a part of being human. Every person divides up the world in certain ways.

Most of the time, she said, people show an unconscious preference toward their social group. By participating in her own experiments, Banaji has found that she favors women over men, and Harvard over MIT. But there are exceptions to these findings, which is what makes this election so intriguing to her.

“There is an aspect of our minds that operates largely in unconscious mode,” she said. “We can say one thing and behave in a way that’s completely opposite.”

In experiments designed to test our unconscious biases, the experimental psychologist has found that 80 percent of whites show a white preference, while 40 percent of blacks show a black preference. But blacks, much more so than whites, are more vocal in saying that they prefer blacks.

So if we say one thing and do another, what will really happen come Election Day? Is Senator Barack Obama at risk for the so-called Bradley Effect, where people will say they’re going to vote for a black candidate and then won’t? . . . .

“I don’t think so,” she said as she fiddled with her tortoise-shell eyeglasses. This election year has already flown in the face of expectations, she said.

“We might even see some reverse-Bradley”, said Banaji. “Who would have thought we’d have an election where the younger white men all dropped out early?” With a tone of cautious optimism, she adds: “That tells us that, in our conscious minds, we’ve come a long way.” But our unconscious, she has found, is often unpredictable. Banaji uses something called an Implicit Association Test – rapid-fire quizzes based on word and image associations – to study a person’s bias. Every time she develops a new test, she and her colleagues take bets on what they think the results will say. “I’m continually wrong,” she said.

In a recent study, she asked participants to choose a quiz team mate from two candidates: an overweight person and a thin person. The overweight person, they were told, had a higher IQ. The majority chose the thin person.

“Our biases are not rational,” she said. “They lead us to do things that are not even in our own best interest.”

Banaji came to her line of work naturally and, not surprisingly, somewhat unconsciously. She grew up a Zoroastrian – a small religion and philosophy with only about 100,000 followers left in the world – in Hyderabad, India. “It was an unusual upbringing,” she said. “You’re a part of a community of 6,000 living in a city of 6 million and nobody knows about you.”

Still, she said, “It never struck me consciously that I was interested in these questions because of my own experience of being different.”

People like understanding their biases, she believes, just as medical patients want to know their risk factors. Over 7 million tests have been completed on Project Implicit, a Harvard website she helped create to allow people to participate in the Implicit Association Tests – and gives the test-taker an immediate analysis of their biases. (It can be found at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/.)

For all her years of research, and her outsider background, Banaji admits that she is not without her own biases. But she thinks that by acknowledging them, people can better attempt to counter them.

She uses the screensaver on her office computer to display images of people from far-flung places, or in unfamiliar roles (a female construction worker, say), in an effort to rewire her associations.

“You can change a behavior even if your attitude doesn’t change,” she said. One example? She encourages people to smile at a random old person on the street.

“And maybe the change in behavior will provoke a change in attitude.”

* * *

Read the entire article here.  Go to Project Implicit here.

Take the Policy IAT here.

For some posts examining the the role of implicit associations in elections, see “The Situation of Being ‘(un)American,’Patricia Devine on Resisting Implicit Associations,” The Interior Situation of Undecided Voters,” On Being a Mindful Voter,”Lopez-Torres, Justice Scalia, and the Situation of Elections,” “Your Brain on Politics,” “Implicit Associations in the 2008 Presidential Election,”The Situation of Political Animals,” “Political Psychology in 2008,” “Perceptions of Racial Divide,The Psychology of Barack Obama as the Antichrist,” and “The Interior Situation of Undecided Voters.”

To review all of the previous Situationist posts discussing implicit associations click on the “Implicit Associations” category in the right margin, or, for a list of such posts, click here. For other Situationist posts on the 2008 Presidential Election, click here.

Posted in Implicit Associations, Life, Politics, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Do You Implicitly Prefer Markets or Regulation?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 23, 2008

To find out, you can take the “Policy IAT 1.0″ (a roughly 15-minute task), click here.

For those of you on IBM-compatible computers, you can now access our new version, “Policy IAT 2.0,”  by clicking here.

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

The Situation of Being “(un)American”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 13, 2008

Shankar Vedantam has written another terrific (situationist) article, “Does Your Subconscious Think Obama Is Foreign?,” published in today’s Washington Post.  Here are some excerpts.

* * *

A few years ago, psychologists [and Situational contributor] Mahzarin Banaji and Thierry Devos showed the names of a number of celebrities to a group of volunteers and asked them to classify the well-known personalities as American or non-American. The list included television personality Connie Chung and tennis star Michael Chang, both Asian Americans, as well as British actors Hugh Grant and Elizabeth Hurley. The volunteers had no trouble identifying Chung and Chang as American and Grant and Hurley as foreigners.

The psychologists then asked the group which names they associated with iconic American symbols such as the U.S. flag, the Capitol building and Mount Rushmore, and which ones they associated with generically foreign symbols such as the United Nations building in Geneva, a Ukrainian 100-hryven bill and a map of Luxembourg.

The psychologists found that the participants, who were asked to answer quickly, were dramatically quicker to associate the American symbols with the British actors, and the foreign symbols with the Asian Americans. The results suggest that on a subconscious level people were using ethnicity as a proxy for American identity and equating whites — even white foreigners — with things American.

The psychologists initially assumed that this bias began and ended with Asian Americans and would not apply to other ethnic groups. But in another experiment involving famous black athletes around the time of the 2000 Sydney Olympics, they found that the same pattern applied to African Americans. . . .

“The reason this is powerful is it shows our minds will not just distort our preferences but distort facts,” said Banaji, who works at Harvard. “African Americans in their [own] minds are fully American, but not in the minds of whites.”

The experiments, based on tests that are accessible at http://implicit.harvard.edu, have provoked controversy — especially in terms of what they mean. It may embarrass people when they subconsciously associate whites with being American, but does that matter? If people have no trouble distinguishing Americans and foreigners in their conscious minds, why should we care about their subconscious tendencies?

It may matter a lot when it comes to voting behavior, the researchers said.

In a new series of experiments, Devos has shown that the “white equals American” bias could well be playing a powerful role in the presidential election.

* * *

[The article then summarizes Devos’s (and Debbie Ma‘s) latest research indicating (1) that people more quickly associate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sen. John McCain, and Tony Blair with being American than they do Sen. Barack Obama and (2) that the subconscious associations mattered (that is, that both Republicans and Democrats “who were slower to see Obama as American on a subconscious level were less likely to be willing to vote for the senator from Illinois than people who more easily associated him with American symbols”), (3) that although this source of voting bias is subtle, it is still “clearly a drag on Obama’s prospects,” and (4) that it “may help explain why Obama has proved vulnerable to negative messages that question his identity and his loyalty to America.”]

* * *

“We cannot think of him as frightening or a likely criminal — he is the antithesis of that,” Banaji said. “So when the mind goes searching for reasons to distrust him, the first thing it lands on are the foreign connections” — Indonesia and Africa, places to which Obama has ties.

“Suggesting Obama is foreign or unknown offers a cover for racism,” she said. “You can’t say he is black and unfit to be president, but you can say that he is Muslim and therefore unfit to be president.”

* * *

Read the entire Vedantam article here.

Take our Policy IAT here.

For some posts examining the the role of implicit associations in elections, see “Patricia Devine on Resisting Implicit Associations,” The Interior Situation of Undecided Voters,” On Being a Mindful Voter,”Lopez-Torres, Justice Scalia, and the Situation of Elections,” “Your Brain on Politics,” “Implicit Associations in the 2008 Presidential Election,”The Situation of Political Animals,” “Political Psychology in 2008,” “Perceptions of Racial Divide,The Psychology of Barack Obama as the Antichrist,” and “The Interior Situation of Undecided Voters.”

To review all of the previous Situationist posts discussing implicit associations click on the “Implicit Associations” category in the right margin, or, for a list of such posts, click here. For other Situationist posts on the 2008 Presidential Election, click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Take the Policy IAT

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 8, 2008

The Situationist Staff urges you to urge your friends (and, to those of you who are bloggers, your readers) to take, the “Policy IAT 1.0.”  We are eager to encourage individuals of all political and ideological orientations to take the on-line test designed to examine whether and to what extent people have implicit preferences for certain types of policy options.

To learn more or to take the Policy IAT (a roughly 15-minute task), click here.

Posted in Ideology, Implicit Associations | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Patricia Devine on Resisting Implicit Associations

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 4, 2008

Nicole Fritz has a nice article summarizing research of Patricia Devine, a University of Wisconsin-Madison psychology professor. Here’s a sample.

* * *

It is a question on many Americans’ minds: Is the United States ready for a black president, or will deep-rooted and even unconscious prejudices show at the polls?

For Patricia Devine, . . . who researches prejudice, the answer isn’t black and white.

“Your conscious mind might tell you to vote for [Obama], but in the privacy of the election booth your unconscious biases may vote differently,” Devine says.

However, Devine holds out when she reflects on the outcome of the election. “It remains to be seen but, cautiously, I think America is ready.”

It is Devine’s rare and constant optimism in people that during the past two decades has changed the field of prejudice psychology.

“Extensive amounts of research have demonstrated the prevalence of stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination, but where others saw mere statistics, Trish saw an opportunity. The premise upon which much of her research is based is that people desire to be good,” says Laura Sheets, one of Devine’s students and lab assistants. “In her personality, lectures and research, Trish consistently conveys this message of optimism.”

In the 1980s, when equal rights were beginning to become a cultural norm, many pessimistic researchers thought people who responded that they were non-prejudiced but then acted with bias were simply liars. Devine trusted the people’s responses and embarked on journey to find out why people want to free themselves of prejudice but unconsciously act with bias.

* * *

Devine started her research as a graduate student at Ohio State University, moving to UW-Madison in 1985 to become an associate professor. She has spent almost 25 years working to put together what she calls her “prejudice puzzle.”

The first puzzle piece was the difference between controlled or conscious and automatic or unconscious responses. In the ’80s, when prejudice was the domain of social psychology, Devine used cognitive psychology research on intentional versus unintentional responses to explain why people will respond with controlled non-prejudiced answers when they have time to process questions, but will have automatic biased actions without processing time.

First, individuals took surveys to show their conscious level of prejudice. Then they took an Implicit Association Test (IAT), a picture/word association test that asks participants to respond as quickly as possible to whether a face or image or phrase is good or bad.

* * *

Devine explains that these biased automatic responses in IATs come from a socialization process that encourages prejudice.

“[Prejudice] is the legacy of our socialization experiences. We all learn these stereotypes and have these biases at the ready whether we condone them or not, whether we think they are good or not, and as a result the immediate reaction is a biased one,” Devine explains. “If you are going to respond in nonbiased ways, you have to gain control or override the automatically activated stereotypic response and instead respond in these thoughtful deliberate ways that might represent your personal values.

* * *

Devine explains that eliminating prejudice is like breaking a habit — in the same way that she had to consciously stop biting her nails as a child, people who want to break the prejudice habit every day have to be aware of their own internal prejudice.

“[Eliminating prejudice] is a process. Making that decision is the first step, but then what you have to do is put some effort into it,” Devine says. “Just making the decision doesn’t mean you wake up one day, stretch and say ‘I’m not prejudiced,’ because you have got this whole socialization experience that you grew up with.”

To support her view that people with conflicting responses are not liars, Devine broke up participants into two groups: high prejudice and low prejudice. The key difference between the two groups is that high-prejudice people will respond with prejudice and not have internal conflict, but low-prejudice people who respond with prejudice feel guilty afterward.

This guilt, what Devine calls prejudice with compunction, is the key to eliminating prejudice.

“When people’s values conflicted, what I predicted is that if they were sincere in their non-prejudicial beliefs, they would feel guilty and self-critical and they would hold themselves accountable,” Devine says. “When given a chance, [low-prejudice] people tried to learn from mistakes, tried to absorb material and at the next opportunity when prejudice was possible, they responded in a fair and unbiased way.”

* * *

Devine . . . began to research student motivation for non-prejudiced behavior and how students could be better reached. [For more, click here.]

In addition to IAT, Devine used startle-eye blink tests, which places sensors on participants’ eyes and then measures their automatic startled-blink response to different faces. Once again the tests proved discrepancies between the reported and automatic response. But what Devine was interested in was the motivations behind the controlled responses.

Devine found that people have both internal motivations (personal values and standards) and external motivations (pressure from society) to act without bias. Through her research, Devine has learned people can be internally motivated, externally motivated or both internally and externally motivated with no correlation between the motivations.

Her research has also shown that it is only the internal motivations that allow people to act without bias in both controlled and automatic responses. People who are externally motivated or internally and externally motivated respond without prejudice on explicit self-report measures but respond in biased ways on implicit measures that do not allow for control over responses.

By knowing the different motivations of individuals, professionals can try to eliminate prejudice via different methods.

“High internal/high external individuals are not good at responding without bias so what they need is help learning to respond without bias. They already have the motivation; we need to give them the skills,” Devine says. “For the high external individuals, we need to create internal motivation. That is what will rid them of prejudice over time.”

Devine’s latest research shows external motivation pushes can cause negative backlash in society, especially on college campuses.

“The low internal/high external individuals, on a campus like this, receive a lot of pressure, and not in a gentle way. People say ‘The way you think is wrong and people who like you are stupid.’ You start to get irritated and you push the message away,” Devine says. “That is one of the things I worry about: backlash. The harder non-prejudiced norms are pushed on them, the more they cement their walls of resistance. For such individuals, reducing prejudice requires finding ways to crack those walls of resistance.”

* * *

As for Devine, although the possibility of a black president shows a growth in prejudice reduction, she sees 25 more years of puzzle-fitting in her future.

* * *

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Guilt and Racial Prejudice,” Perceptions of Racial Divide,” and “Banaji & Greenwald on Edge – Part IV.”

For some posts examining the the role of implicit associations in elections, see “The Interior Situation of Undecided Voters,” On Being a Mindful Voter,”Lopez-Torres, Justice Scalia, and the Situation of Elections,” “Your Brain on Politics,” “Implicit Associations in the 2008 Presidential Election,”The Situation of Political Animals,” “Political Psychology in 2008,” “Perceptions of Racial Divide,The Psychology of Barack Obama as the Antichrist,” and “The Interior Situation of Undecided Voters.”

To review all of the previous Situationist posts discussing implicit associations click on the “Implicit Associations” category in the right margin, or, for a list of such posts, click here.

Posted in Conflict, Implicit Associations, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Interior Situation of Undecided Voters

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 23, 2008

From Anne McIlroy’s article, titled “You May Know How You’ll Vote Before You Know It,” in the Science section of the Globe and Mail:

Undecided about how you will vote if there is a federal election this fall? New research suggests you may not know your own mind.

Voters make decisions at an unconscious level before they deliberate about their options, University of Western Ontario psychologist Bertram Gawronski said.

In the latest edition of the journal Science, he and two Italian researchers report on a technique that may allow pollsters one day to read the minds of undecided voters and accurately predict whom they will end up supporting.

* * *

In the Science article, he and colleagues Luciano Arcuri and Silvia Galdi at the University of Padova describe an experiment conducted in Vicenza, Italy. They interviewed 129 residents about a proposed enlargement of a U.S. military base in their community and asked if they were if favour, opposed or undecided about the expansion.

The volunteers also took a computer-based test.

For those who were undecided, the speed at which they linked pictures of the military base to positive words such as “happy” or “luck,” compared with negative words such as “awful” or “pain,” proved to be predictive of the decision they eventually made about the expansion. The test revealed what Dr. Gawronski and his colleagues call positive or negative automatic mental associations.

Other researchers, including Harvard University psychologist [and Situationist contributor] Mahzarin Banaji, have used a similar technique to get at the subtle, ingrained biases that people are not aware of, but which may shape their behaviour.

* * *

From Stefan Lovgren’s article, “‘Undecided” Voters’ Minds Already Made Up, Study Says,” in National Geographic News:

* * *

[Situationist contributor] Timothy Wilson, . . . the author of the book Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious [click on book's cover in right margin for more information], said there are two interpretations of the study results.

“It may be that participants really had made up their minds and just didn’t know it yet,” said Wilson, who was not involved with the study but wrote an accompanying article in this week’s Science.

“Or they may have been leaning in one direction unconsciously and that biased how they interpreted the information they got about the issue in subsequent days.”

Gawronski, the study co-author, says automatic mental associations play a particularly important role in a person’s decision-making when it comes to ambiguous situations, such as political debates.

“In a debate between Obama and McCain, it may not be entirely clear who showed the better performance,” he said.

“But undecided voters with more favorable associations with McCain may see him as the one who did the better job” and vice versa, Gawronski said.

“It’s this biased perception of events that then provide the basis of their future decisions,” he added.

* * *

To download a pdf of the Science article (Silvia Galdi, Luciano Arcuri, & Bertram Gawronski, Automatic mental associations predict future choices of undecided decision-makers, 321 Science 1100-1102 (2008)), click here.

To listen to an NPR Science Friday interview of Dr. Gawronski and discussion of the undecided-voter research, click here.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Voting for a Face,” “The Situation of Swift-Boating,” On Being a Mindful Voter,” “Implicit Associations in the 2008 Presidential Election,” “The Situation of Political Animals,” and “Your Brain on Politics.” For other posts on the Situation of politics, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Implicit Associations, Politics, Social Psychology, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Interior Situation of Suicide

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 27, 2008

The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine included an article by Peter Bebergal, titled “On the Edge.” (The teaser reads as follows: “Can a test reveal if a person has a subconscious desire to kill himself? Peter Bebergal, who lost a brother to suicide, goes inside Mass. General, where Harvard researchers are trying to find out.”) Here are a few excerpts.

* * *

Four years after my brother’s death, Harvard researchers at MGH are experimenting with a test they think could help clinicians determine just that. It focuses on a patient’s subconscious thoughts, and if it can be perfected, these researchers say it could give hospitals more of a legal basis for admitting suicidal patients.

* * *

This missing piece in the suicidal puzzle is what prompted the innovative research study now in its final phase at MGH. The study, led by Dr. Matthew Nock, an associate professor in the psychology department at Harvard University, is called the Suicide Implicit Association Test. It’s a variation of the Implicit Association Test, or IAT, which was invented by Anthony Greenwald at the University of Washington and “co-developed” by [Situationist Contributor] Dr. Mahzarin Banaji, now a psychology professor at Harvard who works a few floors above Nock on campus. The premise is that test takers, by associating positive and negative words with certain images (or words) – for example, connecting the word “wonderful” with a grouping that contains the word “good” and a picture of a EuropeanAmerican – reveal their unconscious, or implicit, thoughts. The critical factor in the test is not the associations themselves, but the relative speed at which those connections are made. (If you’re curious, take a sample IAT test online at implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/.)

The IAT itself is not new – it was created in 1998 – and has been used to evaluate unconscious bias against African-Americans, Arabs, fat people, and Judaism. But critics question whether the test is actually practical, and up until now no one has tried to apply it to suicide prevention. As part of his training, Nock worked extensively with adolescent self-injurers – self-injury, such as cutting and burning, is an important coping method for those who engage in it, though they are often unlikely to acknowledge it. Nock thought that the IAT could serve as a behavioral measure of who is a self-injurer and whether such a person was in danger of continuing the behavior, even after treatment. In their first major study, Nock and Banaji asserted that the IAT could be adapted to show who was inclined to be self-injurious and who was not. And more important, they said, the test could reveal who was in danger of future self-injury.

The next step, Nock realized, was to use the test to determine, from a person’s implicit thoughts, whether someone who had prior suicidal behavior was likely to continue to be suicidal. It would give doctors a third component, along with self-reporting and clinician reporting, and result in a more complete picture of a patient. Nock doesn’t assume that a test like the IAT would be 100 percent accurate, but he believes it would have predictive ability. “It is not a lie detector,” he says. “But in an ideal situation, a clinician who is struggling with a decision to admit a potentially suicidal patient to the hospital, or with an equally difficult decision to discharge a patient from the hospital following a potentially lethal suicide attempt, the IAT could provide additional information about whether the clinician should admit or keep that patient in the hospital.”

Over two years, researchers at MGH asked patients who had attempted suicide if they would be willing to participate in the test. About two-thirds of them agreed (some 200 patients) – even though some had tried killing themselves just hours before – and after answering a battery of questions about their thoughts, sat with a laptop and took the IAT.

During one test, a person was shown two sets of words on a screen, one in the upper left corner, one in the upper right. A single word then appeared in the center, and the test taker was asked to indicate with a keystroke the corner containing the word that connected to the center word. The corner sets were drawn from two groups of words (one group was “escape” and “stay,” and another was “me” and “not me”). In one version, the sets were “escape/not me” and “stay/me,” and the series of words that appeared in the center included, among others, “quit,” “persist,” “myself,” and “them.” The correct answers called for “quit” to be associated with the side that had “escape,” for “myself” to be matched with the side that had “me,” and so forth. In theory, a delay in answering on “quit,” even if the person got it right, could reveal that he was associating the idea of “quit” with the idea of himself. The word sets varied depending on the test, and bias could emerge in a positive or negative way. For example, if the sets were “escape/me” and “stay/not me” and a person hesitated in correctly matching “myself” to the side with “me,” it could reveal that he was associating himself with the idea of “stay.”

For about the next five months, Nock and his research team at Harvard will analyze all the data collected from MGH. If they think their findings show promise, they will follow up and run their experiment again to see if it yields similar results. If it does, they may seek to implement the test at an area hospital. For now, following up with patients will be pivotal in assessing the test’s effectiveness. Tragically, though, the only way researchers will know for sure whether the test can predict behavior is if a key number of patients attempt suicide again.

* * *

Nock says it’s still too early to tell how well the test will predict someone’s likelihood of engaging in suicidal behavior. But he says the hope is that the IAT will be able to record subtle distinctions between those who are at risk and those who aren’t by measuring how “positively or negatively people value the option of suicide as a potential response to their intolerable distress.

* * *

We recommend the entire article, which you can link to here. For a collection of Situationist posts about implicit associations, click here.

Posted in Implicit Associations, Life | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The “Turban Effect”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 2, 2008

Christian Unkelbach, has authored a fascinating study which suggests the “turban effect” as a source of Islamophobia. The study will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. The following excerpts about this study are taken from a recent article in The Vancouver Sun.

* * *

A Muslim-style turban is perceived as a threat, according to a new study, even by people who don’t realize they hold the prejudice, dubbed “the turban effect” by researchers.

Research volunteers played a computer game that showed apartment balconies on which different figures appeared, some wearing Muslim-style turbans or hijabs and others bare-headed. They were told to shoot at the targets carrying guns and spare those who were unarmed, with points awarded accordingly.

People were much more likely to shoot Muslim-looking characters – men or women – even if they were carrying an innocent item instead of a weapon, the researchers found.

* * *

When the true intention of the experiment was revealed, Unkelbach says participants insisted they were not prejudiced and must have reacted differently from everyone else.

“The most common response was, ‘I’m sure I didn’t show that effect,’” he says. “They’re uncomfortable and I believe them – people are not doing this willingly. If they could, they would control that. Here, people are almost the victims of what they are fed by their environment.”

* * *

The entire article is here. To read other Situationist posts discussing the causes and consequences of implicit associations, click here. Image by Arriving at the horizon.

Posted in Conflict, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

On Being a Mindful Voter

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 3, 2008

Our intense scrutiny of the presidential candidates has produced a relentless stream of questions, some thoughtful and relevant, others spectacularly irrelevant and even embarrassing: Why are you not more likable, Hillary? How good a Christian can he be with the name Hussein?

With our focus solely on the candidates, however, we have neglected to examine the other powerful determinant of the election: the state of our own minds. And yet we know that the voter’s mind, the very thing doing the questioning, probing and judging, is itself prone to limitations no less profound than those of the candidates themselves.

Keeping one’s own mind “in mind” and being aware of its limitations is the first step toward making a conscious choice of who is best for us, the country and the world.

Human minds have a remarkable capability for self-reflection — the envy of every chimpanzee. This fanciest bell and whistle of the brain bestows on us the ability to consciously look into our own mind, recognize its contents, report on it and even change it.

As remarkable as this ability is, however, it tends to mask the fact that we are nonetheless unaware of the vast majority of our minds’ work.

It keeps us from knowing, and therefore from accepting, that the reasons we offer for our choices may not actually be driving those choices. This blindness should not be underestimated, because it is always accompanied by an insidious if honest denial of facts.

The mind sciences tell us much about the invisible mental gymnastics that end up dictating what we like and dislike, what we believe to be true and not, what drives us toward particular people and their ideologies.

My colleagues and I have posed two kinds of questions to understand these two sides of the mind, the conscious and the less conscious. Measuring the conscious side is familiar, tried and true. In the context of race, we ask, “Whom do you like? Whom will you vote for? Why?”

The other question is not only unfamiliar, it isn’t a question at all. To measure race preferences that may be less conscious, we measure the speed and accuracy of the mind at work. How quickly and how accurately do we — can we — perform the simple task of associating black and white with both good and bad? In the gender case, do we associate female or male more easily with “commander-in-chief”?

Such tests do not seek a reasoned answer but an automatic one, a response we form without “thinking.” From such responses we can derive an estimate of our less-conscious likes and dislikes, called automatic preferences. If the results of the two tests agree; that is, if you say you prefer black and you show the same level of preference for black on the automatic test, the two are boringly consistent.

But in ordinary people like me, we often don’t see consistency. Rather we see disparities between what we say and what we reveal. I, for example, report a seemingly genuine attitude of equal liking for black and white, but the automatic test reveals that I have a preference for white over black (as do the majority of whites and Asians in the United States and at least a third of African-Americans). Likewise, although I might express and even have an automatic preference for women, I struggle more than I’d like when I am asked to associate “female” with commander-in-chief.

Such disparity tells me that my spoken preference and beliefs, my intended egalitarian values are out of sync with my less explicit, less conscious preference for white (or for a male leader).

It tells me that I may not be fully aware of who I am or wish to be. What I take away from such a fracture in my own mind is a skepticism that I am color-blind or that I can look past gender to the truly competent candidate. Without awareness of the slippage in my own mind, I am likely to believe that all the relevant data are embedded in the candidates, not in me.

* * *

In the Democratic primaries, we have been given two candidates who represent what was unthinkable in any previous election. Both represent what it means to be American in the broadest, most optimistic sense possible.

One represents the gender of half the people of this country and half the people of the world, but who after 232 years of independence is the first viable female candidate for president.

We also have a candidate who captures another aspect of a changing America: a person with parents from two continents, who is both black and white, from two cultures, rich and poor, with their own languages and religions.

But wait, we have a third candidate, whose demographics represent the familiar — a white, Southern male candidate — but whose actions reflect virtues so powerful that we might indeed set aside the strengths of the first two.

Everything that is tribal and ignorant about us should move us away from them. And that’s the mind’s natural, unexamined inclination. But I see millions taking these candidates seriously. The crossing over is thrilling to watch. Black, male and young, casting for Clinton. Women, white and elderly, voting for Obama. Northerners, the rich supporting Edwards.

These voters have overcome the easy inclination to go with the familiar past. They have broken a tribal cord that bound their predecessors. Their minds have seen through those candidates who create false fears of the enemy outside, who even now fail to recognize what is clearly a futile and unjust war, who lie about taxes, who hold religious beliefs contradictory to physical reality.

* * *

The next election will again be determined not by Democrats or Republicans but by the sizable bloc of independents. Independents cannot be proud of the opportunities they missed four and eight years ago.

But now, there’s a new moment. From the research evidence, I know that to support any of the three Democratic candidates will not come easily. They demand that you give up a preference for the status quo, for what looks familiar, for what sounds superficially “presidential.”

* * *
If that tribal preference is at all attractive, any of the throwbacks on the Republican slate will do.

But if Americans are ready to do what they have occasionally done before . . . the time to cast a similar vote is 2008.

Hillary, Barack and John, as much as we are testing them, are testing us.

* * *

To read the entire editorial, click here. To visit the Project Implicit website and find out more about implicit associations, click here. To review previous Situationist posts discussing implicit associations click on the “Implicit Associations” category in the right margin or, for a list of such posts, click here.

For a sample of previous posts examining situational elements of voting or, specifically, the 2008 presidential election, see “Implicit Associations in the 2008 Presidential Election,” “Lopez-Torres, Justice Scalia, and the Situation of Elections,” “Heart Brain or Wallet?” “Your Brain on Politics,” “Al Gore – The Situationist” and “Irrelevant Third Options in Presidential Campaigns.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Implicit Associations, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

A Critical View of “The Discriminating Mind”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 2, 2008

Image by nedrichards - FlickrAmy Wax posted her article, “The Discriminating Mind: Define it, Prove it” (forthcoming 40 Connecticut Law Review (2008)) on SSRN. The abstract is below.

* * *

Differential group achievements in competitive spheres like business, government, and academia, in conjunction with professed organizational commitments to fairness and equal opportunity, fuel claims that unconscious discrimination operates widely in society today. But attempts to blame disparities by race or sex on inadvertent bias must be approached with caution in the current climate. Many allegations concerning unconscious discrimination do not properly allege category-based treatment at all but rather target the disparate impact, or differential effects, of category-neutral criteria. Such impacts often reflect well-documented supply side disparities between groups in human capital development, qualifications, and behavior. These patterns are not most effectively addressed by focusing on unconscious processes, but rather by scrutinizing neutral practices for efficiency and social usefulness and also by attempting to eliminate underlying group differences in the ability to compete for social rewards.

Likewise, allegations of unconsciously motivated disparate treatment, which are based on the contention that race or sex plays a causal role in social outcomes, should be scrutinized for alternative, non-discriminatory explanations for observed disparities, including supply side differences between groups. In addition, some disparities attributed to unconscious bias could just as well be explained by old-fashioned statistical or rational discrimination, which is also fueled by real, average, observable differences in performance by race or sex. In general, sweeping and categorical claims of unconscious discrimination are unwarranted without specific evidence that this process is actually operating in a given case. Such evidence is hard to come by. In many cases, supporting such claims requires excluding alternative explanations – including supply side explanations for observed disparities in group success.

Posted in Abstracts, Implicit Associations, Public Policy | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Interior Situation of Infants

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 2, 2008

Image by Rose Lincoln for Harvard Gazette

From The Telegraph, here are excerpts from a terrific article by Roger Highfeld about Elizabeth Spelke and her remarkable research at Harvard’s baby brain research lab.

* * *

Welcome to Spelkeland, or, to give it its proper name, the Laboratory for Developmental Studies at Harvard University’s Department of Psychology, run by the cognitive psychologist Prof Elizabeth Spelke, which is dedicated to understanding what shapes the most powerful known learning machine – the infant mind. Great philosophers have mused for millennia about human consciousness and how it makes sense of its surroundings. Like any good scientist, Spelke has turned philosophical hot air into firm experimental data that suggests that we are born with a significant amount of ‘core knowledge’ hardwired into our brains.

Spelke is arguably the most influential figure in the relatively new field of baby brain research, and has been named by Time magazine as one of America’s best in a list of ‘brilliant researchers who are the envy of the world. . . .

The hub of Spelke’s empire occupies half of the 11th floor of William James Hall, a brutalist 1960s tower block named after the pioneering American psychologist. James himself once referred to the ‘blooming, buzzing confusion’ of a newborn’s senses. Spelke’s studies have revealed that, in fact, there is order in the chaos: from the moment we first open our eyes, we possess the essential mental equipment to make sense of the confusion around us.

We are natural-born mathematicians – for example, six-month-olds can distinguish the quantities eight from 16, and 16 from 32. Babies will infer that a rolling ball will keep moving. They also know that when that ball rolls behind a screen it should pop out the other side. And although they can only babble, babies tell us that the germ of our instincts about age, gender and race are laid down in the cradle.

But how can you ask burbling babies what they are thinking? They are much trickier to handle than rats and students, the usual mainstays of psychological research. None the less, the Spelkeland experiments are fundamentally simple, and rely on the one thing that humans of any age can do: get bored. . . .

* * *

To Watch Video Click on this Image

[To watch a six-minute video interview of Elizabeth Spelke about her research, click here.]

* * *

One area into which Spelke’s team would like to delve deeper is the origins of bigotry in human beings. In the case of skin colour, newborns respond to individuals of all races equally. By three months, however, a baby from a Caucasian household will prefer to gaze at a white face, and a black baby at an African American face. By the age of two or three, they are drawn to their own gender, too. ‘There are some very intriguing parallels between the patterns of social preference we find in infants and what seems to go on in adults,’ Spelke says. ‘But we don’t have them nailed. It is the work I will get most animated about, but the reason I am so animated is that we don’t have the answers yet.’ The effort to find how babies divide people into broad groups began only five years ago, ‘a blink of an eye’ in research terms.

Spelke’s studies found baby boys and girls have similar mathematical ability, an incidental finding that was at the forefront of her mind in January 2005 when the former Harvard president Larry Summers suggested that the relative lack of female engineers and scientists was down to innate gender differences. ‘When it comes to the basic modules we are born with, they are pretty much the same,’ says Spelke, who was in the thick of the verbal fisticuffs that followed (Summers was ‘wrong, point for point’). Summers resigned as controversy raged. Spelke does not deny that there are differences in the way men and women think but most of this, she believes, is learnt over time, and down to prejudice and the expectations of society.

Among some scientists there is a reluctance to ask questions about skin colour, so ingrained is the fear that conclusions will be exploited for political ends, or distorted by doublethink. Spelke is fearless. ‘The trouble is there, whether we do our research or not. Knowledge is liberating.’ The more we understand the foundations of how we think, ‘the more effectively we will be able to move in the directions we choose to go in. I am not so worried the research would be misused.’

Studies have already revealed why some old people mutter that all Chinese or Westerners look the same, depending on whether they are Western or Chinese. Six-month-olds are much better than us at discriminating faces of other races and can even tell individual monkeys apart. But that capacity evaporates at nine months, when they tune this skill to discriminate only faces of their own race.

Talee Ziv, another graduate student, is at Spelkeland to follow up some remarkable experiments she did at Tel Aviv University, Israel, with children from care homes. ‘The question was very simple,’ Ziv says. ‘We wanted to know whether children who are three months old have a certain preference for faces of certain races.’

Three groups of 12 babies took part: white Israeli children who had probably been exposed only to white faces; their peers in Ethiopia who probably had no exposure to white faces; and Ethiopian babies exposed to black and white faces because their families had emigrated to Israel. ‘We presented them with pictures of faces, side by side, one white and one African, and we observed where they preferred to look. The white children in Israel preferred white faces. Babies in Ethiopia preferred to look at Ethiopian faces. The third group showed no preference.’

More fascinating still is that Spelke’s lab has revealed a deep-seated prejudice, present in infants, that trumps racial bias: language. Dr Katherine Kinzler, though based in Harvard, spends much time running parallel studies in France. ‘Five-month-old babies will look longer at somebody who spoke to them in their language. Older infants want to accept a toy from someone who has spoken their language,’ Dr Kinzler says.

‘They like toys more that are associated with someone who has spoken their language. They prefer to eat foods offered to them by a native speaker compared to a speaker of a foreign language. And older children say that they want to be friends with someone who speaks in their native accent.’ Accents and vernacular, far more than race, seem to influence the people we like. ‘Children would rather be friends with someone who is from a different race and speaks with a native accent versus somebody who is their own race but speaks with a foreign accent.’

* * *

Does Spelke think her research can help reduce prejudice? ‘That is a very difficult question and probably a premature one since we have a great deal more to learn.’ But her hope is that the better we understand our predispositions, the more chance society has to deal with hate and bigotry.

* * *

To read more, click here. To glimpse how some of the basic experiments are run, take a look at the videos here.

Posted in Implicit Associations, Life, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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 »

 
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