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Posts Tagged ‘implicit associations test’

Shirley Sherrod and the Situation of Racial Discourse

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 27, 2010

Situationist friend Charles Ogletree and Johanna Wald had a terrific editorial this Sunday, titled “After Shirley Sherrod, We all Need To Slow Down and Listen,” in which, among other things, they discuss the relevance of research by Situationist Contributors Mahzarin Banaji and Jerry Kang.  Here are some excerpts.

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President Obama has called and chatted with Shirley Sherrod. Tom Vilsack and Ben Jealous have issued heartfelt apologies. There is talk of a “Chardonnay summit” in the Rose Garden. The subtext to all this? Let’s wrap up this incident quickly so we can all go on our vacations guilt-free, secure in the knowledge that our “post-racial society” remains intact.

Once again, in the midst of the cacophony, calls abound for a national “dialogue” on race. Yet our nation cannot muster the patience or stamina to sustain such a discussion beyond a single news cycle. In some ways, Sherrod’s tale is a metaphor for this country’s aborted efforts to address race. In its entirety, her deeply moving story was about transformation and reconciliation between blacks and whites. It contained the seeds of progress and healing. She spoke of blacks and whites working together to save farms and to end poverty and suffering. But Sherrod, and those listening to her story, could get to her hopeful conclusion only by first wading through painful admissions of racial bias and struggle.

Unfortunately, our news and political cycles make it impossible for any of us to stay in a room long enough to reach that transformative moment. At the barest suggestion of race, we line up at opposite corners and start hurling accusations. Attorney General Eric Holder was widely criticized last year for suggesting that we are a “nation of cowards” when it comes to such discussions. The reaction to his comments is a reminder that we cannot continue to ignore this challenge. Yet Americans refuse to acknowledge that, in today’s society, racial attitudes are often complicated, multi-layered and conflicted.

Racial inequality is perpetuated less by individuals than by structural racism and implicit bias. Evidence of structural inequality is everywhere: in the grossly disproportionate numbers of young black men and women in prison; in the color of students shunted into remedial and special education tracks; in the stubborn segregation of our neighborhoods and schools; in the lack of recreational and academic opportunities for children of color in poor communities; in the inferior medical treatment that people of color receive; and in the still appallingly small numbers of men and women of color in law firms, corporations and government. It is evident, too, in the history of blatant discrimination against black farmers practiced by the Agricultural Department.

But that does not make doctors, nurses, police officers, judges, teachers, lawyers, city planners, admission officers or others prejudiced. Most are well-intentioned professionals who believe themselves to be free of racial bias. From their perspective, it is not easy to connect individual actions and decisions to broader structural conditions and environments built up over decades and even centuries.

Implicit bias is a reality we must confront far more openly. A growing mass of compelling research reveals the unconscious racial stereotypes many of us harbor that affect our decisions. Such attitudes do not make us prejudiced; they make us human. Those who take the Implicit Association Test often express shock when results show that their unconscious biases conflict with their explicit egalitarian values and ideals. Nonetheless, white and black test-takers match black faces more quickly than white ones with words representing violent concepts and are more likely to mistake a harmless object for a gun when it is carried by a black person. One study found that the more stereotypically black the features of a criminal defendant, the harsher the sentence he or she is likely to receive. Implicit bias has been shown to factor into hiring decisions and into the quality of health care that individuals receive. Mazharin Banaji and Jerry Kang, leading scholars on implicit bias, have noted: “As disturbing as this evidence is, there is too much of it to be ignored.”

The good news is that structures can be dismantled and replaced and unconscious biases can be transformed, as happened to Shirley Sherrod and the family she helped, the Spooners. First, though, they must be acknowledged. We and others researching race and justice are committed to untangling the web of structures, conditions and policies that lead to unequal opportunities. Our nation has to stop denying the complexity of our racial attitudes, history and progress. Let’s tone down the rhetoric on all sides, slow down and commit to listening with less judgment and more compassion. If Americans did so, we might find that we share more common ground than we could have imagined.

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For a sample or related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of ‘Common Sense’,” Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t,” Perceptions of Racial Divide,” Black History is Now,” Jennifer Eberhardt’s “Policing Racial Bias” – Video,” Measuring Implicit Attitudes,” What Are the Legal Implications of Implicit Biases?,” Confronting the Backlash against Implicit Bias,” and Implicit Bias and Strawmen.”

Posted in Distribution, History, Implicit Associations, Morality, Politics, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Confronting the Backlash against Implicit Bias

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 22, 2009

GroupsBelow you will find some excerpts from an important paper by Situationist Contributor John T. Jost and six distinguished co-authors (Laurie A. Rudman, Irene V. Blair, Dana R. Carney, Nilanjana Dasgupta, Jack Glaser, Curtis D. Hardin).  The paper is titled “The Existence of Implicit Bias is Beyond Reasonable Doubt:  A Refutation of Ideological and Methodological Objections and Executive Summary of Ten Studies that No Manager Should Ignore.” The paper will be published in Research in Organizational Behavior.  Many thanks to Julian Darwal for putting this post together.

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In this chapter, we respond to recent critiques of research on implicit bias, especially studies using the Implicit Association Test (IAT).

Philip Tetlock and Gregory Mitchell argue that measures of implicit bias including the IAT fail to predict organizationally relevant behavioral outcomes.   They claim “there is no evidence that the IAT reliably predicts class-wide discrimination on tangible outcomes in any setting,” accuse their colleagues of violating “the injunction to separate factual from value judgments,” adhering blindly to a “statist-interventionist” ideology, and of conducting a witch-hunt against implicit racists, sexists, and others.  These and other charges are specious.  Far from making “extraordinary claims” that “require extraordinary evidence,” researchers have identified the existence and consequences of implicit bias through well-established methods based upon principles of cognitive psychology that have been developed in nearly a century’s worth of work.  We challenge the blanket skepticism and organizational complacency advocated by Tetlock and Mitchell and summarize ten recent studies that no manager (or managerial researcher) should ignore.  These studies reveal that students, nurses, doctors, police officers, employment recruiters, and many others exhibit implicit biases with respect to race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, social status, and other distinctions.  Furthermore—and contrary to the emphatic assertions of the critics—participants’ implicit associations do predict socially and organizationally significant behaviors, including employment, medical, and voting decisions on the part of working adults.


The IAT is is merely one methodological innovation in a long stretch of empirical contributions documenting the existence of implicit bias.  Implicit prejudice results followed naturally from a century’s worth of research on perception, memory, and learning.  The evidence fits the contemporary consensus that an enormous amount of cognition occurs automatically, effortlessly, and outside of conscious awareness.

Cognitive Accessibility as a Method of Demonstrating Implicit Bias

In Devine’s experiment, participants evaluated “Donald” as more hostile after they had been subliminally exposed to a relatively large (vs. small) proportion of words related to common stereotypes of African Americans in a previous, ostensibly unrelated task.  Not only were participants’ social judgments affected by stereotypes without their awareness once these had been rendered accessible through subliminal exposure, but this effect on social judgment occurred regardless of how participants had voluntarily reported their personal racial attitudes.

Semantic Priming as a Method of Demonstrating Implicit Bias

According to this paradigm, prejudice and stereotypes are empirically captured by the degree to which they are linked through speed and efficiency to semantically related concepts.  Exposure to a word related to women (e.g., lady, nurse) hastens the speed with which people identify female pronouns that appear subsequently; similarly, exposure to a word linked to men (e.g., gentleman, doctor) facilitates the identification of male pronouns.

Evaluative Priming as a Method of Demonstrating (and Measuring) Implicit Bias

Fazio et al. (1995)’s evaluative priming tasks exposed participants to photographs of either white or black faces and asked them to categorize subsequent words as either positive or negative, as quickly as possible.  The presentation speed of the faces and words was short enough in duration to ensure that their influence on responses would be the result of automatic rather than controlled processes.  When white participants classified positively valenced words, their responses were faster when they had been exposed to white (vs. black) faces, but when they classified negatively valenced words, their responses were faster when they had been exposed to black (vs. white) faces.

Individual Differences in the Motivation to Control Prejudice

Fazio also identified an important moderator of the relationship between implicit and explicit biases, namely the “motivation to control prejudice.”  Specifically, they developed a questionnaire measure that included items such as, “It’s never acceptable to express one’s prejudices.”  Not surprisingly, participants who were higher in motivation to control prejudice scored lower on an explicit measure of prejudice (the Modern Racism Scale).  By contrast, the motivation to control prejudice did not predict implicit bias.

Recent Brain Imaging Work

In 2000, researchers provided physiological evidence for the construct validity of implicit attitudes in general and the predictive validity of the IAT in particular when they demonstrated that IAT scores were correlated with the magnitude of amygdala activation when white participants were exposed to photographs of unfamiliar black (vs. white) faces.  The amygdala is involved in emotional responses to threat, such as fear.  Self-reported racial attitudes failed to predict amygdala activation under the same circumstances.

Literally hundreds of studies in cognitive accessibility, semantic priming, evaluative priming, and other areas in social cognition provide conclusive evidence that mental processes can and do operate nonconsciously and can be measured implicitly.  To take Tetlock and Mitchell’s critique seriously, one would need to set aside so much of social and cognitive psychology that both disciplines would be rendered unrecognizable to contemporary students and scholars.


The case for implicit bias in no way depends upon any single methodological innovation (such as the IAT), nor is it restricted to associations about race or ethnicity or gender.  Rather than duplicate a number of metanalytical studies have found that measures of implicit bias predict relevant behavioral outcomes, the authors focus on a small subset of recent studies with a diversity of methodological strengths that no manager should ignore.

(1) Employment recruiters who favored native Swedes over Arabs on an implicit stereotyping task were significantly less likely to offer (equally qualified) Arab (vs. Swedish) applicants job interview opportunities.  Overall, Swedes were 3 times more likely to receive callback interviews.Blue Yellow Groupism

(2) Despite the fact that participants regarded female (vs. male) managerial applicants who presented themselves as confident, competitive, and ambitious as highly qualified, they also disliked them and were therefore less likely to recommend hiring them.  Participants’ implicit gender stereotyping predicted the extent of disliking.

(3) White student participants who scored higher on measures of implicit bias against various racial/ethnic outgroups were significantly more likely to report engaging in verbal slurs, social exclusion, and physical harm against members of minority groups.  They also were more likely to recommend budget cuts disproportionately against Jewish, Asian, and black student associations.

(4) In the context of a video simulation program, police officers were significantly more likely to “shoot” an unarmed suspect when he was black (vs. white) on early trials, but they were able to overcome this bias with practice.

(5) Physicians’ degree of implicit (but not explicit) bias predicted racial disparities in simulated treatment recommendations.  Specifically, greater bias was associated with (a) decreased likelihood of recommending thrombolysis for black patients suffering from coronary heard disease, and (b) increased likelihood of recommending it for comparable white patients.

(6) Nurses working in a drug and alcohol treatment and rehabilitation facility who scored higher in implicit bias against intravenous drug users experienced more occupational stress, less job satisfaction, and were more likely to express intentions to leave their jobs.

(7) Undecided voters’ implicit candidate preferences, obtained one month prior to the election, significantly predicted their eventual voting decisions.

(8) Hazardous drinkers’ implicit attitudes toward alcohol predicted heightened appetitive responses in the presence of alcohol and self-reported binge drinking.

(9) Convicted male pedophiles were found to exhibit an implicit association between children and sex, whereas no such effect was observed for other sex offenders (who were not pedophiles).

(10) Adolescents’ self-injury implicit associations were correlated with whether or not they had attempted suicide as well as suicidal ideation up to 6 months after their initial assessment, even after adjusting for demographic and psychological risk factors.


– Why, contrary to what Tetlock and Mitchell claim, IAT research does provide reason to suspect Jesse Jackson and Jesse Helms would perform differently on an IAT test.

– Why IAT test results cannot just to be attributed to the “benign causes” of familiarity (people tend to prefer familiar over unfamiliar stimuli); cultural awareness (implicit bias measures may tap “shared cultural stereotypes rather than personal animus”); sympathy for the disadvantaged (the IAT could be driven by sympathy, rather than antipathy, toward outgroup members); fear of being labeled a bigot (rather than actual bigotry); or differences in IAT participants’ cognitive dexterity.

– Why Tetlock’s “organizational accountability” solution to workplace prejudice is inadequate.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Legal Academic Backlash – Abstract,” “Naïve Cynicism in Election 2008: Dispositionism v. Situationism?,” and “Implicit Bias and Strawmen.”

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Racism Meets Groupism and Teamism

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 25, 2009

Racial Bias TeamFrom Eureaka Alert:

White people don’t show hints of unconscious bias against blacks who belong to the same group as them, a new study suggests.

But this lack of bias only applied to black people in their group, according to the findings. Most white people in the study still showed evidence of some unconscious bias towards blacks who were in an opposing group, or who were unaffiliated with either group.

What impressed the researchers, however, was just how quickly these group bonds could form. The lack of bias toward fellow black group members was uncovered just minutes after whites joined the mixed-race group, and without participants even meeting their fellow members personally.

“The results suggest that when we share some kind of identity with a group of people, we automatically and immediately feel positively toward them, regardless of race,” said Jay Van Bavel, co-author of the study and post-doctoral fellow in psychology at Ohio State University.

“You can think in terms of people who go to the playground and play a game of pickup basketball. All it takes is a flip of a coin to make someone your teammate, and at least for that game, you’re going to feel positively toward your teammates, white and black.”

Van Bavel conducted the study with William Cunningham, assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State. Their study appears in the March issue of the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

The study involved two separate but related experiments with college students, one done in Canada and one in the United States.

The students took a computer test commonly used by psychologists to reveal unconscious, or automatic racial bias. The test examines people’s first reactions to seeing a black face, before their conscious mind can edit and override biases.

Even though most people disavow any racial bias, this test consistently shows that about three-quarters of white North Americans have some level of unconscious racial bias, Van Bavel said. These unconscious thoughts can lead people to make biased decisions without realizing they are being biased.

For example, a manager may pass over a resume of a person whose name suggests she is an African American, without even recognizing why he is doing it, according to Van Bavel.

The computer test flashes pictures of black and white faces quickly on the screen followed nearly instantaneously by positive words (such as love) or negative words (such as hatred). Participants have to very quickly – within about one-half of a second — categorize the words as positive or negative.

In general, white people find it more difficult to correctly classify positive words when they were first shown a photo of a black person.

“Seeing a black face automatically activates this association with negative things for many white people and if they don’t have time to correct this negative image – which they don’t in this study – they associate negative words with black faces,” Cunningham said.

In the first experiment, 109 students at the University of Toronto were randomly assigned to one of two groups made up for the study – one named the Lions and the other called the Tigers. A control group learned about the two groups, but was not assigned to either one of them.

Members of the Lions and Tigers were shown photos of the members of both groups, and told it was important to learn who belonged to their team, and who belonged to other team.

Later, they were given the computer bias test. Results showed that students in the control group, who were not a member of either mixed-race group, showed a preference for white faces over black faces, as was expected.

But white members of the two teams showed no bias against black members of their own teams. They did, however, show bias towards black members of the opposing team.

“Team members were evaluating people based on whether they were on the same team – not evaluating them based on their race,” Cunningham said.

The second experiment involved 126 students at Ohio State. The setup was essentially the same, except that participants also evaluated white and black faces that were not members of either of the two groups. Results showed that white students showed no bias against blacks who belonged to their team. They showed nearly equivalent levels of bias towards black members of the opposing team, and black members who were not associated with either team.

This suggests that whites were showing increased positive feelings toward black members of their own team, but not increased negative feelings toward blacks who belonged to the opposing team.

“White students felt the same toward blacks on the opposing team and people who didn’t belong to any team,” Van Bavel said. “That means liking people from your team doesn’t mean you have to hate members of the other team.”

Van Bavel said the unconscious biases studied in this research have real-life consequences.

“What’s dangerous about these attitudes is that they can come into play even when we’re not aware of them, and even when we think we are being egalitarian,” he said.

But this study suggests there may be ways to battle this unconscious, automatic racism.

“We want to change how people see someone at the very earliest stages. If you see someone as a member of your own team or group, race may not even come to mind. You are thinking about that person in terms of some kind of shared relationship,” Van Bavel said.

In the real world, this means creating contexts to show how people are connected whenever possible. This may mean emphasizing our shared identities as residents of a city, fans of a sports team or members of a church.

“It’s part of human nature to feel positively about members of our own group,” Cunningham said. “The challenge is to find ways to call attention to our shared identities.”

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For some related Situationist posts, see “Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t,” The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions,” “Guilt and Racial Prejudice,” “Perceptions of Racial Divide,”Hoyas, Hos, & Gangstas,”‘Us’ and ‘Them,’March Madness,” Race Attributions and Georgetown University Basketball,” “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part I,” “The Origins of Sports Team Fandom,” “Attributing Blame — from the Baseball Diamond to the War on Terror,” and “Situationist Theories of Hate – Part II.”

Posted in Abstracts, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

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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