The world is relying on a flawed psychological test to fight racism - Quartz Media

In 1998, the incoming freshman class at Yale University was shown a psychological test that claimed to reveal and measure unconscious racism. The implications were intensely personal. Even students who insisted they were egalitarian were found to have unconscious prejudices (or “implicit bias” in psychological lingo) that made them behave in small, but accumulatively significant, discriminatory ways. Mahzarin Banaji, one of the psychologists who designed the test and leader of the discussion with Yale’s freshmen, remembers the tumult it caused. “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. 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.

This acclaimed and hugely influential test, though, has repeatedly fallen short of basic scientific standards.

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There are various psychological tests purporting to measure implicit bias; the IAT is by far the most widely used. 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. Project Implicit’s stated aim is to “educate the public about hidden biases”; some 17 million implicit bias tests had been taken online by October 2015, courtesy of the nonprofit.