Contest to Reduce Implicit Racial Bias Shows Empathy and Perspective-Taking Don’t Work
NCAA college basketball isn’t the only hot competition involving a team from the University of Virginia. UVa Psychology Professor Brian Nosek is one of three founders of Project Implicit, a collaborative nonprofit dedicated to the study of implicit social cognition — how unconscious thoughts and feelings can influence attitudes and behavior.
Prof Nosek is also heavily involved in the Open Science and Replication movements. Along with graduate student Calvin Lai, he led a multinational group of 22 other researchers in a competition to see who could devise the best intervention to reduce racial bias scores on a widely administered implicit test, the race IAT (Lai et al, 2014).
The Implicit Association Test (IAT) is a mainstay of social psychology research that assesses implicit (unconscious) attitudes towards outgroups (based on race, sexual orientation, body size, age, etc.), stereotypes (e.g., men are in science, women are in arts/humanities), opposing ideologies (e.g, Democrat vs. Republican), and a staggering array of other binary preferences (Classical-Hip hop IAT, Astrology-Science, Britney Spears-50 cent, Boxers-Briefs, Harry Potter-Lord of the Rings and on and on).
Or does it… ? There have been some vocal critics of the IAT over the years who have questioned what the test actually measures. I’ll return to this point later, but for now let’s look at the impressive aspects of the new paper.