Thursday, October 30, 2008

Measure Your Own Unconscious Race Bias

There is much speculation about how race bias is affecting the presidential election. A friend and colleague of mine who has a PhD in behavioral psychology predicts that McCain will win by a hair because latent race bias will have an effect on voting day, no matter what the polls say. I certainly hope he is wrong (and instead is inoculating himself against that possibility,) but he is referencing significant studies that look at the individual unconscious and how it influences on the spot decision making. The best way we can control this is to at least have an honest look at our own race biases. Nicholas Kristof provides links in his editorial today to two studies where you can take an online test that measures your unconscious race bias and provides results back to you immediately.

Harvard Implicit Association Test

University of Chicago Shooter Effect Test

University of Chicago Shooter Effect Results

I took them this morning with some fear of what I would discover. It is always hard to face unconscious suppositions. They have a propensity to poke holes in who we think we are. But they are there and faced or not their influence remains in effect. Let's drag them out into the light where we can all, even alone as individuals, deal with them. In the Harvard site there is a series of tests you can choose from. If you scroll 2/3 down the screen, there is a test specifically designed to test race bias in association with Barack Obama and John McCain.

I have written before about how race bias is present in this election here and here.

Addendum: If you do take these tests, and don't like the results that you get back, here are some thoughts on what that means. For one, these tests are supposed to measure unconscious bias. They do so by asking you to respond quickly to stimuli that are loaded in racial, cultural and political ways. Your responses are measured by accuracy and time. Psychoanalysis has been exploring free association for over a century, recognizing that if you simply react to visual and verbal stimuli, attitudes and truths come forward that the ego and the persona are not dealing with. In the open, these unconscious contents can be explored and integrated into one's overall sense of self. However, discovering them can be both difficult and disturbing. If the results challenge your sense of who you are, ie. you are white and liberal and test with a bias against blacks, as many have, you are presented with information that is in conflict with your personal sense of self. These latent attitudes would be there anyway had you not looked into them, but knowing that they are there can push you to more consciously integrate that personal ambivalence towards race. Also, consider the unconscious to be a force of nature, something that you are responsible for but have little input into its contents. There is no blame for what you find there. Only the responsibility to recognize those influences and face them as best you can. This process can be upsetting enough that the Harvard site requires you to respond to a disclaimer saying that you may find results that you strongly disagree with before you take the test.

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