Implicit bias


Implicit bias has become increasingly popular as an explanation for why equality has been so hard to achieve. The Harvard Implicit Association Test (IAT) has become a popular online test that many people use to see how implicitly biased they are towards ‘outgroups’. Yet it seems that the test isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. This article is very long but I highly recommend reading it all as it goes into a lot of detail about why the test is potentially fatally flawed. A couple of highlights:

“What all these numbers mean is that there doesn’t appear to be any published evidence that the race IAT has test-retest reliability that is close to acceptable for real-world evaluation. If you take the test today, and then take it again tomorrow — or even in just a few hours — there’s a solid chance you’ll get a very different result. That’s extremely problematic given that in the wild, whether on Project Implicit or in diversity-training sessions, test-takers are administered the test once, given their results, and then told what those results say about them and their propensity to commit biased acts. (It should be said that there are still certain consistent patterns: Most white people, for example, score positively on black-white IAT, supposedly signaling the presence of anti-black implicit bias.)”


“Focusing so narrowly on implicit bias risks ignoring the complexity of the problems, like racial disparities, that are argued to be caused to implicit bias,”


Leading IAT researchers haven’t produced interventions that can reduce racism or blunt its impact. They haven’t told a clear, credible story of how implicit bias, as measured by the IAT, affects the real world. They have flip-flopped on important, baseline questions about what their test is or isn’t measuring. And because the IAT and the study of implicit bias have become so tightly coupled, the test’s weaknesses have caused collateral damage to public and academic understanding of the broader concept itself.