The Situationist

Banaji & Greenwald on Edge – Part V

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 1, 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; Part III is here; and Part IV is here.

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BANAJI: Liberals sometimes have trouble with this test. Thy have put themselves into a separate category where they do no harm but everybody else, say those who live south of the Mason-Dixon or whatever, are the really prejudiced people. When we show that self-professed liberals are biased too, there is some squirming.

GREENWALD: The test has critics, but of about 500 scientific publications on the IAT so far, perhaps two or three percent are critical. This criticism has sometimes been very useful in guiding research. In some cases, the research has shown that the criticism was not valid. In other cases, the criticism has been found to be valid and has led to improvement of the IAT’s design.

BANAJI: But there is a response from the scientists which has parallels in the older sciences. Our methods are certainly critical of older methods in the sense that we believe that for a hundred years psychology relied extensively on self report, on asking people, “What do you think about this or that?” Just as with hypertension, where I no longer ask “What do you think your blood pressure reads right now?”—I would measure it with an objective tool—here is a situation in which asking people may not always lead to the useful answer.

Confirmation from other measures of what the IAT is tapping can be useful and we have such research, adding newly to our interpretations. One tool that I have found to be helpful in this regard is the use of fMRI to observe neural activity in predefined brain regions known to have particular capacities and to relate the IAT measure to it.

GREENWALD: To this point, there have been relatively few studies lining up fMRI imaging results with the IAT. Whereas the IAT can be administered in less than five minutes and costs very little to administer, obtaining the imaging data usually requires at least an hour, 20 or 30 minutes of which is spent inside an MRI scanner that makes a huge racket.

BANAJI: It has been ten years since the test went up on the Web—it went up in 1998—and we may have surpassed the six million mark in terms of completed tests. This makes it probably the largest such data collection on the Web. In terms of the research, it is very gratifying to see groups of people just picking it up and doing whatever they want to with it, including high school students.

Image by thesmokingsection - flickrOne area of great interest to me personally is the question of where these biases emerge from, especially the intergroup ones. Both in terms of evolution and in terms of our development from birth to adulthood. A large part of my lab’s work right now is focused on understanding how these biases operate in the minds of young children. Can we develop analogs of this test so that we can use it with infants? (Don’t know yet). We’d like to figure out how early in life babies become fascinated by what is familiar, what sounds like their mother, and from which a sense of self versus other, us versus them emerges.

I am very interested in the connections to the neuroscientific evidence. Can we converge, with different types of evidence on understanding how we treat others who are not like ourselves? Members of other species, members of our own species who have different beliefs (Hindu vs Muslim). Research by my colleague Jason Mitchell shows that indeed we may not engage the same brain region when thinking about somebody who is say a social democrat (similar to self) versus somebody who is different (a fundamentalist Christian). Judges need to know that. All of us need to know that.

GREENWALD: Within the next ten years, we expect a few uses for the IAT to become well established. One already developed use is educational, providing new ways to achieve what diversity training programs now try to achieve. There is much interest in using the IAT in this way to give people some self-insight that might help them improve how they function in their jobs. Another developing use is for clinical psychological diagnosis. Imagine someone taking an IAT on a handheld computer in the waiting room of a hospital or clinic, rapidly providing information that can help the clinician to understand something that the patient may be unable to describe to the clinician. Clinical psychologists have recently been adapting the IAT for such uses, although we have yet created the technology needed to administer it in the waiting room.

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To visit the Project Implicit website and find out more about implicit associations, click here. To take the “Presidential Candidates IAT,” 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.

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

  1. […] Banaji’s Situation • The Situation of a Situationist – Mahzarin Banaji • Banaji & Greenwald on Edge – Part V […]

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