What’s in your head? Implicit bias training at RIC

Tim Caplan – News Editor

Implicit Bias has been a controversial subject in the social science community for over 20 years, especially with the 1998 invention of the Implicit Association Test (IAT). Project Implicit, who created the test, is a non-profit research foundation focused on studying implicit social cognition and was founded by three scientists from Harvard, the University of Virginia and the University of Washington.

Dr. Jordan Axt, Photos by Thomas Crudale

On Wednesday, March 20, Jordan Axt, a postdoctoral research associate from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and Center for Advanced Hindsight, was invited to speak at Rhode Island College by the Dialogue on Diversity and Inclusion. Dr. Axt is a member of Project Implicit. The event took place in the Gaige Hall Auditorium.

Dr. Axt began his presentation by speaking about the differences between the conscious and unconscious mind: “Your mind is an island, part of it is above water, the conscious mind, (and part is) below water, unconscious mind.”

Dr. Axt then displayed a series of photos which demonstrated how the mind often plays tricks on the senses of sight and sound. These pictures featured monsters in a tunnel that seemed to be different sizes but when the tunnel was taken away, it was revealed that they were the same size. Another picture by Edward H. Adelson, displayed a checkerboard with a shadow over it, which made 2 different squares labeled “A” and “B” seem as though they were different colors, but in reality were the same. These were meant to emphasize the fact that the human mind often works in ways that people are unaware of as it happens.

The presentation then continued with a large scale administration of the IAT to the audience, in which it judged that the audience correlated the faces of white people with pleasant words at a higher rate than the faces of Black people with pleasant words. Dr. Axt said that this was normal, however, and showed his own original test results, which were very similar to that of the audience.

There are many social psychologists who dispute the validity of the IAT, the most vocal of which is University of Connecticut Professor Hart Blanton, who claims “The IAT provides little insight into who will discriminate against whom, and provides no more insight than explicit measures of bias.”

Dr. Axt’s response to these criticisms were that on an individual level, the IAT scores are not as adequate as what some social scientists believe about the measurement of overall feelings in a society.

The presentation was concluded with Dr. Axt’s 3 major suggestions about how he felt an individual could counteract their own implicit bias, which were to use objective criteria when decision making, think slowly, and be vigilant about implicit bias.

One of the photos presented by Dr. Jordan Axt, Graphic courtesy of naniomo.com