The Harvard Bias Test: What it Told Me About Myself
via Clay Banks
We are all biased. This is an inescapable fact. Whether we realize it or not, we can be biased in many ways against many different groups of people. Do you know all your biases? Well, I know I didn’t until I took Harvard’s bias test or the Implicit Association Test (IAT). The IAT is a test created to measure the attitudes and beliefs that we either are unaware of or are aware of and refuse to accept/report. For example, you may advocate against fatphobia but only follow influencers who have a “slim” or “skinny” body type and therefore showing you have a desire to see that body type over others. A lot of our biases come from our environment and trained thinking either from our parents or by society. Fortunately, as we modernize our thinking, many things people used to have biases against have now become more accepted. Before I discuss my experience with the test, I want to remind you that the IAT makes no claim to the validity of the suggested interpretations as they are suggestions! So, what did the IAT say about me?
The IAT measures the strength of associations between concepts, like Black people, and evaluations, like good and bad, or stereotypes like athletic and clumsy. The main idea is to make a response quicker when closely related items share the same key response, so during the test, the speed with which you categorize concepts affects how the test scores your association. When doing the IAT, I was asked to sort words and images into their corresponding assigned association. So, when I was doing the weight IAT, if an image was of a ‘thin’ person then I had to sort it as ‘thin’ and if a word was ‘bad’ such as angry, then it was to be sorted as ‘bad.’ I was tasked with doing it as fast as I could by pressing certain keys. Images of ‘thin’ people were then asked to be categorized with good words and then with bad words and the same thing with ‘fat.’ If I had a harder time sorting ‘good’ words and ‘thin’ people during the test, that would show a bias against them due to me not associating ‘thin’ with ‘good,’ or that's the idea with this test. There are various biases to test using the IAT but today I am going to discuss my experience testing my weight, race, and sexuality biases.
When I was taking the test, it showed I had a slight automatic preference for thin people. This means that on some level, I see ‘thin’ people as slightly more good than ‘fat’ people because I associated ‘good’ with ‘thin’ more easily. This was not at all shocking to me because I know for most of my life ‘thin’ has always been presented to me as better and more desirable. While I do disagree with this statement, I know I still have to unlearn the associations and preferences that I have been taught.
The race test only tested White people and Black people which is exclusionary considering there are not only two races. Anyways, the test showed that I have a moderate preference for Black people over White people. This is also unsurprising to me because as a Black woman I feel safer in spaces with other Black people. Due to history and personal experience, I have an association with Black people as “good” and White people as “bad.” However, this preference is not something I try not to allow to lead to any prejudiced actions against White people but I certainly recognize my bias against White people as a group.
Taking the sexuality test showed I had a moderate preference for gay/queer people to straight people. The test specifically tested associations with same-sex and opposite-sex couples. As a queer person of color, it also makes sense that I do not always feel safe around straight people thereby giving me a preference for queer people or people who are just not straight in some capacity. However, I never discriminated against or advocate against straight people in any way shape, or form. I just advocate for everybody to be accepting and compassionate members of society and not hateful.
So, as you see, we all have our biases. Biases can be dangerous if we let them, as has been shown in history time and time again. We need to be careful and always be mindful which can help us unlearn harmful thoughts or behaviors. I found the test really insightful because it helped me see my biases clearer and now that I am aware, I can work towards unlearning these biases. This process is one I suggest everyone go through because it can help us all learn a lot about ourselves as people. To unlearn my biases and retrain my thoughts, I work on always challenging my thoughts, learning more about communities I am not a part of, and really focusing on why I may have a certain bias and why it is harmful to have it. While we can’t choose our biases, we can choose to unlearn them and treat everyone with the equity they deserve.
If you are interested in taking any of the Implicit Association Tests, they can be found here.