Issuu on Google+ Tuesday March 24 2009







You are prejudiced

As Harvard University launches an online test which reveals our subconcious and suppressed prejudices, Susan Robinson breathes deeply and prepares to meet her inner Bernard Manning pparently I’m fattist, ageist and A slightly sexist but (thankfully) not racist or homophobic. Am I

just having a particularly bad day? Or considering a career in stand up comedy? Who told me this? A group of researchers at Harvard actually... Even though we wouldn’t like to admit it, very few people are completely without prejudice. These latent prejudices may not influence our actions or decision-making at all, they are just a gut response which we often suppress in our relations with other people. Recording and analysing these ‘implicit associations’ has been the work of Project Implicit since 1998. They take the commonly held assumption that people don’t always ‘speak their minds’ and claim that people often don’t ‘know their minds’. Dostoevsky explains this phenomenon more articulately in his 1864 novel, Notes from the Underground: "Every man has reminiscences which he would not tell to everyone

but only his friends. He has other matters in his mind which he would not reveal even to his friends, but only to himself, and that in secret. But there are other things which a man is afraid to tell even to himself, and every decent man has a number of such things stored away in his mind." Usually if anyone offered to help me ‘discover my unconscious’ I would think that they had an excess of horse tranquiliser they were desperate shift or that I had mistakenly stumbled into a “Healing Centre” when all I really wanted was a Twix from the newsagents as opposed to Nirvana (perhaps after the ketamine). However, Project Implicit’s website, with data compiled from over 4.5 million visitors who have attempted an IAT (Implicit Association Test), may just have some light to shed on the hidden biases and stereotypes at work in society. These IATs determine if you harbour certain prejudices through

automatic response towards pictures and words. In the test, you are given two sets of images and two lists of words with positive and negative associations (for example, “glorious” and “agony”), plus a word associated with the bias being investigated e.g. “old”. When the images of old, young, fat, thin, black and white people appear on the screen you have to select the correct word used to describe them. Your response times are recorded and used to determine that the longer it takes you to make the association between a picture of an old person with the words “old” and “glorious” next to it, the more likely it is you are working to overcome a preconceived attitude. Although there is reason to question the validity of such tests, as you perform them the psychology involved becomes much clearer. Try as I might, I couldn’t associate the picture of two men holding hands with the word “bad”. But, the almost inescapable mantra “Thin is good”

certainly sharpened my associations. Me, product of a society that is increasingly accepting of homosexuality but warns us on a daily basis that soon we’ll all be so fat that it’ll affect the earth’s gravitational pull? I think so. The gender test challenges your associations between men, women, science and the arts. Although I believe that women have an equal aptitude in science, I responded beautifully to the stereotype that men are more associated with science and women with the arts. Testimony to the fact that for centuries science has been dominated by men with beards and static hair? The researchers involved are keen to express doubt for the accuracy of the tests and console anyone who has just discovered that they have a hidden pathological hatred for the elderly that these attitudes are malleable and can be altered by exposing yourself to different situations and groups of people. Their

advice to me, and the 80% of people who show a preference for youth, is to ‘start smiling at older people’. However, I have a suspicion that the average OAP will just clutch her handbag a little tighter when I grin at her (“Those hoodies!”), so perhaps we should just take comfort in the fact that, when tested, most old people show a preference for a fresh face too. Even the order I took the tests in reveals something about my attitudes. I took the White-Black IAT last purely because I was terrified that, completely against my will and although I know it isn’t the case, the result would be: ‘Susan, you are a massive racist bigot. Even your mother won’t love you now.’ But then you realise someone, somewhere will actually ‘Moderately agree’ that ‘It’s OK if some groups have more of a chance in life than others.’ It’s certainly a worrying eyeopener. And I didn’t even have to try horse valium.

You are prejudiced (24/3/09, The Student)