UW Today

This is an archived article.

September 23, 1998

Pervasiveness of prejudice to be demonstrated at press conference; Americans can go on line to test themselves

A powerful new psychological tool that shows a shocking number of people — as many as 90 to 95 percent — display the unconscious roots of prejudice will be demonstrated at a 10 a.m. press conference Tuesday Oct. 2 at the University of Washington by its developer, UW psychology professor Anthony Greenwald. Also participating in the press conference will be Mahzarin Banaji, a Yale professor of psychology who has collaborated with Greenwald in developing the test. After the press conference a Web site will be activated that will permit people to sample a number of do-it-yourself tests that measure their unconscious underpinnings of prejudices and stereotypes.

The new tool is called the Implicit Association Test and it “has the potential to reveal things about people that they may prefer not to know,” say Greenwald and Banaji, whose research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Mental Health. “But the results are hard to refute and they are so obvious that they are shocking.”

The test measures people’s implicit or unconscious evaluations and beliefs about groups that spring from strong, automatic associations of which the person may be unaware. An important example is automatic race preference. A person may not be aware of automatic negative reactions to a racial group and may even regard such negative feelings as objectionable when expressed by others. Many people who regard themselves as nonprejudiced nevertheless possess these automatically active negative feelings, say Greenwald and Banaji.

Although the news that so many people possess the unconscious roots of prejudice — including the researchers, who admit to being bothered and disturbed by their own test results — seems gloomy, Greenwald and Banaji look at it another way. “The same test that reveals these roots of prejudice has the potential to let people learn more about, and perhaps overcome, these disturbing contents of their minds.”
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