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IAT Proves Beneficial to Society

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The Implicit Association Test (IAT) is an experimental test that determines unconscious associations and preferences between particular concepts.

The IAT was created in 1998 by Anthony Greenwald, Debbie McGhee, and Jordan Schwartz. The testing was originally designated to further investigate social cognition. More recently, it has expanded its range of uses and has been used in clinical psychology.

Project Implicit is an international study that focuses on behavior and sociality based on conducted IATs. Some of the project’s research takes place in the University of Washington, University of Virginia, and Harvard University.

Examples of IATs include determining unconscious preferences toward a specific gender in science, thin versus obese people, and dark-skinned versus light-skinned people.

The most popular IAT is probably the racism test, which determines unconscious preferences between Europeans and Africans. In summary, the participant first pairs pictures of individuals’ faces on the computer screen with “European” or “African,” depending on the person’s ethnicity in the thumb-sized photo. Then the words “Good” and “Bad” are placed beneath “European” and “African,” respectively. The participant again places the photos of individuals in the correct racial category. In addition, words like “agony,” “peace,” “sorrow,” and “happiness” appear. These words must be placed under their designated category, depending on whether the word has a positive connation (it would be placed under “European Good”) or a negative connotation (it would be placed under “African Bad”). Finally, “Good” and “Bad” replace each other, so that one side of the computer screen reads “European Bad” and the other side reads “African Good.” The participant places the photos and random words accordingly to the new subdivision of racial group and connotation. The entire test is based on the participant’s speed at putting the words and photos where they belong and the participant’s accuracy.

Generally speaking, the average American results with a moderate unconscious preference toward Europeans.

I first heard about the IAT through Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, a phenomenal book about psychology and the adaptive unconscious.

The author suggests that one can overcome the racism-based IAT by imagining famous Africans in the African faces on the computer screen.

I took the racism IAT twice and  was very surprised by the results and the quality of each test. Both times I had a “moderate automatic preference for European American compared to African American.”
The first time I participated, the thumbnail pictures had hand-drawn cartoons with poker faces. The faces seemed almost frowning, so I often accidentally placed both ethnicities with the race that housed “Bad” beside it. Because the faces were cartoons, I could not use Gladwell’s suggestion in beating the IAT.

The second time I took the same test, the thumbnails had real people. I was able to go through sorting the pictures faster. Halfway through, however, I noticed that I was only looking at the individuals’ noses in order to place them in the designated category. I did not notice their eyes or hair, and I barely distinguished skin color. If the nose was slightly larger, I placed it in the “African” category.

Since I sorted people based on their nose shape in oppose to skin color, I wonder if the eyes’ rods distinguish shapes faster than the eyes’ cones can differentiate color…
Another IAT I took using the same website concerned connotations of men with career and women with family. This test was very similar to the racism-based IAT, but “Male” replaced “European,” and “Woman” replaced “African.” Instead of photos of people, male and female names appeared, and I had to sort them into the correct category. “Career” and “Family” were subsequently placed under “Male” and “Female,” respectively, and then words were added to the combination of names that needed to be sorted. Some of the words were “wedding,” “corporation,” “children,” and “salary.” Then “Career” and “Family” switched places beneath the two gender titles, and the sorting continued.

My result suggested a “strong association of Male with Career and Female with Family compared to Female with Career and Male with Family.” But unlike the racism-based test, where I consciously disagree with my results, I think that if someone simply asked me which sounds more universal when it comes to career and family, I would agree with my results.
I have been so greatly influenced by the media and the environment I live in that an association favoring males in career seems correct. But equally as interesting, according to Harvard’s Project Implicit statistics, 32% of the participants (the highest percentage) have a “moderate association of Male with Career.”

The IAT is a huge eye-opener. The ingenuity behind it evokes the unconsciousness, and (though it may not necessarily be true to each individual who takes it,) the test certainly gives important lessons and suggestions on how humans can advance and overcome prejudices. Hopefully, IAT’s results and experiments will help scientists and the general community to understand how they can improve society.

Until then, it is up to us to work together and overcome our differences.

1. “What is Project Implicit?.” Welcome to Project Implicit – Information Website. Project Implicit, 2008. Web. 11 May 2010.

2. “Preliminary Information.” Project Implicit – Take a Test. IAT Corp, n.d. Web. 11 May 2010.

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