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01. 26. 2005

Project Implicit - Do you have a gender-science bias?

If you're on anyone's email forward list, you've probably taken or at least seen one of the Implicit Association tests that measures your implicit, or sub-conscious level of bias towards certain groups of people. These tests work by timing the speed at which you can associate "good" (beauty, hope, joy, etc..) or "bad" (hideous, terror, beast) words with descriptive terms like "female" or "young". If it takes you longer to associate "beauty" with "old" than with "young" then it ups your bias score. Of course, this whole methodology is very controversial, as many of the people who score high on implicit bias have no explicit bias and find it hard to believe that they possibly have some hidden stores of prejudice. While many have argued that the tests prove nothing, and are merely exercises in quick hand-eye coordination, the researchers have found that the tests are predictive in how high bias scorers behave in real-life situations. For instance, when given a choice to work with a white or black partner, high bias scorers were much more likely to choose the white partner.

Interestingly, this study was started at Harvard University, home of Lawrence Summers, the beleaguered foot-in-mouth president, who unintentionally started a campaign against gender/science bias when he suggested that women may have genetic disadvantages which prevent them from competing with men at the highest levels in the hard sciences. One of the IAT tests checks to see if you associate males with science and females with fields in liberal arts. I took the online IAT last night. Knowing that people overwhelmingly end up being surprised by how their bias scores are, I was prepared to be ashamed. My score: You have completed the Gender-Science IAT. The line immediately below summarizes the results of your task performance. Your data suggest little or no association between science and Male relative to Female

Before I congratulate myself, it's been shown that people can affect their scores by actively gearing up to fight a high-bias score by flooding their heads with thoughts that they wish to be reflected in their scores. Might I have done that? Of course. I didn't think too much before taking the old vs. young IAT and I showed a strong bias against old. I was horrified but what does it all mean? Is it just a sub-conscious awareness of a larger societal bias or something more? Was Dr. Summers expressing something that many of us believe but don't want to admit?
From the Washington Post, which has a version of the test as well.

Posted by Mia    Category: current affairs
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