What is the Harvard racist test?
Apparently, I’m a little bit racist. That’s right — up until today, I thought I was a fairly even keeled guy with very little in the way of racial preference. Turns out, I’m just another George Wallace in sheep’s clothing. Thanks a lot, Harvard.
A little backstory — I’m a white male in my late 20s. I grew up as a minority — in fact, in the high school I graduated from there were maybe a half dozen other white graduates. I had no problem with this. I’ve never thought of myself as having any racial preference whatsoever. I think Beyonce is just as hot as “13” from House.
But, according to the Harvard racist test, I show “a slight automatic preference for European American compared to African American.”
The Harvard racist test is just one of the “Implicit Association Tests” developed by Harvard scientists working on something called Project Implicit. Check it out yourself at http://www.projectimplicit.net/. The “IAT”s are composed of both standard demographic questions and “hyperquizzes” where the user must use hand eye coordination to respond to a series of visual stimuli. In the most interesting part of the Racist test, users must use their left and right index fingers to press a button and respond to images on the screen. The test constantly urges you to “make quick decisions”, which I suppose is the scientists way of ensuring that users don’t “cheat’ the results. If you answer with your first response, you’re more likely to be honest in your responses.
You have to take the test to really understand how it works. Basically, the questions are designed to test how quickly you can identify a race by a small picture, and how quickly you can associate a certain word with a its connotation as “bad” or “good”. My first qualm with the test was the thought that perhaps my results were skewed by the fact that I am right-hand dominant, until I realized that the scientists who built the hyper test switched the questions and answers between hands, I suppose in an attempt to counter act the impact of hand dominance.
This is not the only “Implicit Association Test” availble from Project Implicit. Using their technology, you can find out things as diverse as your political leanings (Obama or McCain?), religious preference, skin tone preference (different from racial preference, as all races and ethnicities have variations in tones of skin), and sexuality. Though the absolute science of these tests is easy to dispute, the results were shocking, for me.
It is possible that I have ‘a slight preference’ for European American faces — after all, they were the faces that raised me as a child, and the faces of most of the women I’ve ever dated. However, jumping to conclusions based on a four minute test is dangerous. What if, for instance, employers were allowed to use this test as a hiring mechanism? The Harvard IATs are not yet ready to be swallowed without a pinch of salt.