We can’t feel as guilty or be held to account for racism that isn’t conscious.The forgiving notion of unconscious prejudice has become the go-to explanation for all manner of discrimination, but the shaky science behind the IAT suggests this theory isn’t simply easy, but false.Silicon Valley companies aren’t the only ones working on their “implicit bias” problem.
The slower you are and the more mistakes you make when asked to categorize African-American faces and good words using the same key, the higher your level of anti-black implicit bias—according to the test.
“Implicit bias” became a buzzword largely thanks to claims that the IAT could measure unconscious prejudice.
It asks you to sort various items: Good words (e.g. poison, horrible), African-American faces, and European-American faces.
In one stage (the order of these stages varies with each test), words flash by onscreen, and you have to identify them as “good” or “bad” as quickly as possible, by pressing “i” on the keyboard for good words and “e” for bad words.
“It was mayhem,” she wrote in a recent email to Quartz.
“They were confused, they were irritated, they were thoughtful and challenged, and they formed groups to discuss it.” Finally, psychologists had found a way to crack open people’s unconscious, racist minds.
When social psychologists Banaji (now at Harvard University) and Anthony Greenwald of the University of Washington first made the test public almost 20 years ago, the accompanying press release described it as revealing “the roots of” unconscious prejudice in 90-95% of people.
It has been promoted as such in the years since then, most vigorously by “Project Implicit,” a nonprofit based at Harvard University and founded by the creators of the test, along with University of Virginia social psychologist Brian Nosek.
This apparently incredible insight has taken the test in question, the Implicit Association Test (IAT), from Yale’s freshmen to millions of people worldwide.
Referencing the role of implicit bias in perpetuating the gender pay gap or racist police shootings is widely considered woke, while IAT-focused diversity training is now a litmus test for whether an organization is progressive.