Understanding Prejudice
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College Student Assignments

The Implicit Association Test (Race Version)

Goal

To explore the topics of subtle racism and implicit attitudes in a hands-on way that allows students to assess whether they have hidden racial biases.

Preparation

Discuss subtle racism and implict attitudes in class, and explain how one of the most popular implicit measures -- the Implicit Association Test (IAT) -- works to detect unconscious biases. Here is an explanation of the IAT from page 22 of Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination:

The IAT is a computer-based test that measures how rapidly people are able to categorize various words and images, and it capitalizes on the fact that most of us identify words and images more rapidly when they come from closely related categories than when they come from unrelated categories. For instance, if you associate librarians with intelligence and boxers with violence, you can probably tell in a split-second that synonyms for intelligence like smart and brainy relate to the dual category "librarians or intelligence," and synonyms for violence like aggression and hostility relate to the dual category "boxers or violence."

But what if we switch the elements around, and you are asked whether smart and brainy relate to the dual category "librarians or violence" or to the dual category "boxers or intelligence"? In this case it will probably take you longer to match smart and brainy with the category containing "intelligence," because these dual categories contain elements that are not stereotypically related to each other. Thus, by comparing the speed with which people categorize words or images, the IAT indirectly assesses how closely people associate certain elements with each other. To examine racial stereotypes, for example, the test might replace librarians and boxers with Whites and Blacks. With this version of the IAT, faster responses to "Whites or intelligence" and "Blacks or violence" (compared with "Whites or violence" and "Blacks or intelligence") could indicate the presence of an implicit stereotype.

Assignment

Assign students to take the race IAT on this site and write a 1-2 page paper answering the following questions:

  1. What were your IAT results?
  2. Do you believe your results were accurate? Why or why not?
  3. What was your reaction when you learned your results?
  4. Regardless of the IAT, do you think that you have hidden racial biases? What is your evidence?
  5. In your opinion, how common are hidden racial biases, and how important are they compared with other racial biases?

Variation

Instead of requiring a paper, instructors may simply ask students to take the IAT and be prepared to answer the questions above in class.

Note

Because the IAT may reveal information that students do not want to know about themselves, instructors should offer an alternative assignment for students who would rather not take the IAT.