As humans, we often operate under what Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink, calls ‘snap judgements’. When we first meet someone, a whole range of biases run through our mind in the blink of an eye – taking into account race, gender, height, weight, and many other factors. Whether we like it or not, these unconscious or ‘implicit associations’ between our inward convictions and outward actions play a huge role in how we interact with our world.
In his book (Blink), Malcolm Gladwell describes the work of Anthony G Greenwald, Mahzarin Banaji, and Brian Nosek. These three developed the Implicit Association Test, or IAT, based on the connections humans make between categories and ideas. The exam has been computerized which has allowed researchers to discover differences down to the millisecond. The scores range from ‘Little or No Automatic Association’ to ‘Strong Automatic Association’. The exams themselves cover many different areas of life, like the snap judgements listed above. (If you’re interested, visit implicit.harvard.edu to try out the IAT)
While at university, I have been going through a leadership development program that really places an emphasis on understanding your own style and overcoming blind spots in order to be a better leader. Blind spots are most often our biases and privileges. So the development program works to eliminate bias so that our leadership is unimpaired by nonsensical opinions. When I read about the IAT, I immediately went online because I was so intrigued by the idea of understanding my own subconscious assessment of the world.
What I discovered in my scores startled me.
I won’t share all of the scores, as they are a little bit personal, but I will say that they prove the development program is working. For example, this is the distribution of scores for the Gender-Career test:
This goes to show the strength of this society’s association between Male and Career versus Female and Family. However, I landed in the 0.3% group at the bottom. I have no idea why, but there you go. This was along the same lines for most of the other IATs I took; I usually ended up in the group with the lower percentages.
There really isn’t a good way to extrapolate the data, but it’s fascinating to see how I react to the big ticket ideas such as race, gender, sexuality, careers, and age. It makes me question the influence of the media in my life, and how my family and education changes my perception. The results also make me wary, as I don’t want to fall too far to one side and judge people poorly for being on the other.
On the other hand, these tests have allowed me to better understand my own internal principles and answer, at least partially, some personal questions that I have been grappling with over the past few weeks. Some of the results went against everything I’d been taught my entire life, which is now making me step back and re-evaluate my stance on some issues.
If you’ve taken these tests, what are your thoughts? Did you agree or disagree with your results? Did they surprise you? I’d love to hear in the comments!