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16 January 2009

The IAT, Racism, and Obama

The IAT is a psychological test that measures your implicit attitudes on a variety of subjects. The beauty of the test is its near perfect external validity. Many psychological experiments, and subsequently findings, have trouble translating to the real world. The IAT, in this case, is used to measure your implicit attitudes towards racism. You can take it here. Once, you get to that site you can take a multitude of IAT tests, but if you scroll down go the second to last one is entitled Race IAT. Take that one.

As an aside, in my final psych. lab in undergrad. we took this test after taking an explicit test about race. I scored the highest on the explicit test (by far) meaning that according to my outward beliefs I was quite racist. I think the other rich white kids were just lying about how they really felt. I was however vindicated by the IAT. I got the least biased score of anyone in the class.

There is an example given in Malcolm Gladwell's book, Blink, of a student that takes the IAT every day. And every day the result comes back that he has a preference for white people over black people. Then one day the result comes back that he has no preference. For one day his implicit racism subsides, but thereafter his IAT scores go back to showing a preference for white people. So what happened that one day that changed his actual attitudes? He watched a speech from MLK. The theory goes that when you see someone or something that you may have misgivings about doing something good or being associated with something you consider positive repeatedly it changes your implicit attitudes towards them... no real shocker there.

When Obama got elected I was excited because I thought it would improve race relations, and perhaps more importantly, help black people feel empowered. But how do you measure that? Wheres the proof for that theory? The Implicit Attitudes Test (IAT). I'd love to see those IAT scores charted for a few years before, during, and after this presidency. $20 and my right arm says there's a moderate to large sized statistically significant effect.

For extra credit: will this change the opinion of racist conservative rednecks? I think so. They'll still hate him for being black and for being a "liberal", but they'll also watch him (except for the most extreme cases) acting as the president. And over time the two will become synonymous with one another in their minds.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hmmmmm.... interesting. Your musings/predictions about what may happen in the future are quite intriguing. I hope you're right.
After our conversation, reading your blog, AND taking the test though, I still can't shake my 'issue' with it being called 'implicit racism.' Does preference indicate racism, or is it just implicit preference because it's something known and understood? I'm trying to imagine this sort of test and what it would say if it was comparing other races, cultures, ages,...
I would be interested to know how much interaction Blink boy had with African-Americans during every day life. I'd also like to know how African-Americans score.... okay, I'm going to stop typing and start looking it up. :) V