The Situationist

Banaji & Greenwald on Edge – Part IV

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 25, 2008

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

GREENWALD: We have of course written quite a few papers reporting our research with the IAT, but those papers now represent only a small fraction of the total research literature on the IAT. This is because the technique has captured the interest of many of our colleagues. The question many are asking is, “Do these associations that the IAT measures have any impact on behavior?” This has been the number one question in the research almost since the IAT’s creation, and now, after ten years, there are over a hundred publications that have reported relations of IAT measures to behavior.

As many as a third of these publications have focused on the race test. What they have found—and this is not something we could have confidently predicted beforehand—is that the implicit race attitudes measured by the IAT predict behavior better than do the standard methods of measuring racial attitudes—the self-report methods of survey questionnaires.

In one type of experiment that has been done a few times, researchers video-recorded the behavior of a White person, who had previously taken the IAT, talking to a Black person in an ordinary conversation. The videotapes were then scored for indicators of discomfort, such as speech errors, maintaining distance, and turning away. The remarkable finding is that these indicators of discomfort are better predicted by the race IAT than by the same person’s self-reported race attitudes. And now, with more than one hundred studies looking at “predictive validity”—the relation of what the test measures to behavior—we know that the test usefully predicts behavior.

BANAJI: Our paramount interest is the science. If it has positive social value, that is great, but in our daily lives what we spend our time on is to find ways to understand the nature of this phenomenon we’ve discovered – that our minds do things that we don’t intend to, can’t always control, may even be embarrassed about and deny. The questions we ask as scientists are very ordinary. First of all, what is being measured? Statistically speaking, how large are the effects of the biases we are observing? Should we take them seriously? (If they are tiny, we need not bother with them; but if they are large, perhaps we should pay heed.) Who and how many people are implicated? Is this a universal phenomenon? What does it predict? Does one’s own group membership matter? Can a bias be changed?

The question of prediction has been an important one. One could argue this way: Let’s see, I am sitting in front of a computer and pressing two little keys. You are measuring something in milliseconds and telling me that I should take this seriously as a measure of how good a person I am? Of who I like and dislike? How I will behave as a doctor, a judge, a police officer?

To answer the question of what the test predicts, we needed studies that included the gold standard measure. The real thing. For example, if you have money or other resources, whom will you give it to? Whom will you cooperate with? Who will you hire to be on your team? If you are a doctor, to whom will you prescribe a particular medical procedure? Do you prescribe it equally? These are the real behaviors to which the test needs to speak What if if the test is simply picking up some random set of mental associations that have no value in the real world?

That piece of research on predictive validity has been done largely by people other than ourselves. There is now a robust body of work showing that in certain domains, this test outpredicts the usual questions about human behavior that are directly posed to respondents on a survey-type measure.

GREENWALD: We have tried to make the IAT method easily available to other researchers. The instructions and the stimuli are under copyright, but we have made it clear to any researcher who asks that they are entirely free to use the test in their scholarly research. For uses in commercial applications, like diversity training, market research, polling, etc. where people want to use the test to generate income, we license uses of the test.

BANAJI: I think we have taken the position that this test is useful for two purposes: as a scientific tool, and for education, at the individual level and at the level of communities discussing its meaning and its use. We have taken the quite firm position that this test is not to be used in the selection context, and we say so very explicitly at our website and whenever we have the opportunity. We do not believe that this is the kind of test you give somebody and then say, for example, “Ah-ha! We see that you have a larger-than-average race bias, so you cannot serve on a jury.”

Is it possible, that our warning notwithstanding, that the test will be misused in this way? Yes, as it is with anything. An AIDS vaccine could be misused in some way, but we would not suggest that we not develop one for that reason. There is always potential, when you discover something new, for it to be misused. But this is why when the scientists who know most about it take the position that it cannot be used in certain contexts, we are building in a strong protection.

GREENWALD: One of the considerations prompting us to say that, ordinarily, the test should not be used for selection—such as of jurors or employees—is that we know we would not qualify for many responsible positions if a selection criterion were absence of implicit bias on an IAT measure. But we do not think we should be disqualified from such positions just because we have these associations in our heads. At the same time, we do think that it’s useful for us to be aware of the associations measured by the IAT and to recognize that they can influence our behavior in ways we may not be happy with.

To visit the Project Implicit website and find out more about implicit associations, click hereTo 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.

One Response to “Banaji & Greenwald on Edge – Part IV”

  1. RaiulBaztepo said

    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language ;)
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

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