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Mind

NeuroQuest

What are your hidden prejudices?

By Eric HaseltineOctober 1, 2003 5:00 AM

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Those who would like to be able to read minds—police, parents of teenagers, and lovers—have discovered the hard way that extrasensory perception and polygraphs aren't reliable. But psychologists have made some progress developing tests that can expose thoughts and attitudes buried so deep in the brain that they are hidden even from the person who holds them. Try these experiments to release your own secret proclivities.

Experiment 1A Grab a watch with a second hand, then cover the two columns of words below with a sheet of paper. Beginning with the column on the left, uncover the words. Working as quickly as possible, place a check mark to the left of each word that represents an animal or is an adjective that has good associations for you. Place a check mark to the right of each word that represents a plant or is an adjective that has bad associations for you. Note how many seconds it took to finish the first column of words. Now repeat the procedure for the right column, except this time place a check on the left if the word is a plant and on the right if it is an animal. Review your responses, then add a second to each column's time for every erroneous classification you made.

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Experiment 1B Now flip the page upside down and clock yourself for the black/white and white/black columns. For the left column, place a check to the left of each entry that is the name of a black person or is an adjective that has good associations for you. Place a check to the right of each entry that is the name of a white person or is an adjective that has bad associations for you. Repeat for the right column, except this time place a check on the left for the name of a white person or an adjective with good associations and on the right for the name of a black person or an adjective with bad associations. Again, add a second to your time for every error.

You've just taken the Implicit Association Test (IAT), developed by psychologists Anthony Greenwald and Mahzarin Banaji. Their research suggests that if you associate white people with good and black people with bad, then your completion time for the column with these pairings will be faster than for the column with the opposite pairings. If your scores fit that pattern, it does not necessarily mean that you behave in a prejudiced manner, only that you have unconscious associations that are worth thinking about.

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Experiment 2 Performed correctly, the IAT imposes severe time pressures that leave little room for deciding if a selection is politically correct. Hidden attitudes can surface even when you know what the test is trying to do. Try it for fat versus thin associations (below) to see if this is true for you.

Again, if you're not happy with your scores, focus on your behavior, not what may be buried deep in your brain. People who are the most successful in dealing with prejudices are often those who know they have them.

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Take the official computer version of the Implicit Association Test: implicit.harvard.edu.

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