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Are you racially biased? The Implicit Association Test

Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Are you racially biased? Sadly, you probably are at least a little bit, even if you’re a lovely person and you’re completely unaware of it.

In late April, Baltimore burned when protests prompted by the death of Freddie Gray turned violent. The death of Gray, who sustained a fatal severed spine while in police custody, was the latest in a string of deaths of young black men at the hands of the police. In the aftermath of a grand jury’s decision in November not to indict the officer who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, we published a feature in DG #17 which asked if American police officers really are trigger-happy racists, or if they’re simply affected by a type of bias most of us are all guilty of.

Implicit bias refers to the unconscious split-second prejudices which influence our decisions. Dr Lorie Fridell is a sociologist and leader in the application of implicit bias theory to law-enforcement practice. She’s been expounding her programme of ‘Fair and Impartial Policing’ (FIP) in training rooms across the US for the past ten years. “The individuals in that training – as well as police leaders across the United States – are looking for answers,” she says. “They want to do the right thing.”

In the context of implicit bias, though, doing the right thing in any circumstance is problematic. “It’s very difficult to identify when bias has impacted on police action in an individual case,” Dr Fridell explains. “By definition, biased policing reflects the motivation of the officer. So two officers might exhibit the exact same behaviour, and one could be biased and the other one not.”

To get an idea of what’s going on, it’s worth putting yourself through the Implicit Association Test, the landmark social psychology experiment that energised the study of bias in the mid-’90s. You’re asked to make various quick-fire associations – typically between black faces and positive or negative words, or between female names and ‘logical’ versus ‘emotional’ attributes – while the computer times your responses.

The evidence points towards all of us exhibiting biases at the unthought level. To get an inkling of how biased you may be, you can take the ten-minute Implicit Association Test online. Not only can you test whether you’re racially biased, there are also options to check whether, deep down inside, you have prejudices based on people’s weight, sexuality and age. To try the test, visit the Project Implicit site here.

To read our full feature on Ferguson and implicit bias in American policing, you can buy issue #17 of Delayed Gratification in our shop

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