14 December 2009

Implicit Association Test

When I look at this family, my thoughts are enclosed by a warm , fuzzy feeling that this is the idyllic family and they look so content and at ease with each other. It's the kind of photo that you put on a card or something. Someone else may view this entirely different based on their views about black families in the abstract or based on superficial or in-depth encounters with them.

I remember some time ago, Malcolm Gladwell was on the Oprah Show and the topic was overcoming prejudice. Mr. Gladwell is one of my favorite authors and had written the book, Blink.  In it, he discusses The Implicit Association Test (IAT) developed by professors from Harvard, The University of Virginia and University of Washington.The purpose of this test is to expose those hidden feelings we have about various groups/individuals and the impact of societal norms and practices on how we view others who may look differently, act differently and espouse values that may also challenge the "norm". One of the professors, Dr. Tony Greenwald, makes it clear that this test is not perfectly accurate, yet, makes a good case for how environment influences us and our perceptions of others.  As part of my blog statement, I assert that perceptions are the steering mechanisms of thoughts, ideas and behaviors. Debating and thinking through our perceptions about different issues and groups serve as a means to change them or hopefully encourage more tolerance. The exceptions, of course, being those things that cause harm or destruction to people and some of the other complexities inherent in humanity.

What I found intriguing is how surprised Mr. Gladwell was after taking the test and it showed that he had a moderate preference for white people.  It should be pointed out that the IAT score is labeled as slight, moderate or strong associations.  Slight means that one is unaware of
the perception, however, an analysis would uncover it.  Moderate would indicate a difference well noted and strong would be an obvious association.  He was so upset that he took the test again and the results were the same.  Mr. Gladwell is bi-racial and has a black mother whom he adores and to quote him: "In other words, I was biased—slightly biased—against black people … which horrified me because my mom's Jamaican," he says. "The person in my life who [I] … love almost more than anyone else is black, and here I was taking a test, which said, frankly, I wasn't too crazy about black people."

I've read all his books with the exception of the most recent one What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures, and  most of his subject matter has to do mainly with Caucasians and his encounters with people of color are limited.  In one of his books, he discusses his background.  The author was born in England and reared in rural Ontario, Canada.  He operates mainly in the dominant society and although he's written accounts of how black people in particular are viewed and treated, e.g., Amadou Diallo; there is considerable respect and balance for the offenders in that particular case. Mr. Gladwell presents a compelling viewpoint that this wasn't just about racial profiling.  Many people of color, however, believe this tragic case was all about profiling and how black men are viewed by the police dept. especially in N.Y.C. This is so well detailed in Blink and should be required reading for everyone. It wasn't a surprise to me that his test results were the same after the second attempt to change the outcome. There are probably many people of color who think they have a balanced view of their racial group and may be equally surprised once they take the test.

I took it and the evaluation of my perceptions about my racial group matched the results of the actual test.  It revealed a moderate preference for black people.  Also on this site are IAT(s) for other topics/groups, e.g., age, gender-science, weapons, weight, Asian and Native Americans.  For more on the program that featured Mr. Gladwell, please click on the following link.

'Overcoming Prejudice'

1 comment:

Niya said...

I can't wait to take the entire battery of IAT tests. I took the light skin vs. dark skin test, and it said I had a slight automatic preference for Dark Skin compared to Light Skin. Are you suprised Mom? (smiles) I was one step away from having no preference either way. I do think I have a healthy attitude towards all skin colors, but there is a slight affinity toward the dark.

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