Are we “a nation of cowards”?
Charles Blow accuses most citizens of being biased against blacks in today’s NYT. Moreover, he accuses the vast majority as “cowards” because they are biased, but they won’t admit it. To support this accusation, he sites evidence from a controversial new measurement called the IAT, or “Implicit Attitude Test.” It measures how closely you associate concepts in terms of response time.
You can try the test out yourself on this site. It’s pretty crazy, and you will almost certainly come out with a slight bias against blacks no matter how hard you try.
But the question remains: does that measure have any real significance? Does it imply that we treat people with racial bias? These questions, applied to gender rather than race, are a central part of my dissertation.
In short, I find that implicit attitudes do matter, but it depends on the circumstances. Implicit attitudes affect behavior unconsciously, so they are indeed pernicious. When all else is equal, they probably influence decisions. But they do not overwhelm conscience decision making, or overwhelm more relevant information.
For example, race probably factors heavily in low information races. When you do not know about a minor local race (say, city council), you may unintentionally favor a white candidate over a black candidate. But in high information (e.g., the Presidency), race probably places only a small role.
I plan to post more about this topic in the future, but I wanted to react to this interesting item that appeared in today’s paper!