One author whose work I really, REALLY enjoy is Malcolm Gladwell, who has been a staff writer with The New Yorker magazine since 1996. Thus far Malcolm has written four books: The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
(2000), Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
(2005), Outliers: The Story of Success
(2008), and What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures
By some strange quirk of fate, I actually ended up reading these in reverse order. My wife (Gina The Gorgeous) first introduced me to Malcolm’s work when she gave me What the Dog Saw
as “stocking fillers” last Christmas. Later, I purchased Blink
in an airport while traveling hither and thither. And just yesterday evening as I pen these words I finished The Tipping Point
All of these books are extremely thought provoking and make you look at the world in a completely different way. I am in awe of Malcolm’s ability to gather so many diverse threads together and weave them into such compelling tales.
The point is that, while I was finishing The Tipping Point
, I was reminded that there was something in Blink
about an online test that I had always intended to try for myself. So when I meandered my way into my office today, I pulled my copy of Blink
off the shelf and had a quick skim.
In Chapter 3, Malcolm talks about the way in which unconscious associations play a part in our beliefs and behavior. In particular, he introduces a tool called the Implicit Association Test (IAT), which is premised on the fact that: “We make connections more quickly between pairs of ideas that are already related in our minds than we do between pairs of ideas that are unfamiliar to us.”
Malcolm then points us at www.implicit.harvard.edu
where we find a bunch of online IAT tests we can take for ourselves (just click the “Demonstration” button to get started). The most famous of these tests is the Race IAT
. As Malcolm says:
“I’ve taken the Race IAT on many occasions, and the result always leaves me feeling a bit creepy. At the beginning of the test, you are asked what your attitudes toward blacks and whites are. I answered, as I am sure most of you would, that I think of the races as being equal. Then comes the test.”
The end result is that on the Race IAT Malcolm is rated as having a “moderate automatic preference for whites.” The thing is that Malcolm is half black. Like he says:
“So what does this mean? Does it mean I’m a racist, a self-hating black person? Not exactly. What it means is that our attitudes toward things like race or gender operate on two levels. First of all we have our conscious attitudes. This is what we choose to believe. These are our stated values, which we choose to direct our behavior deliberately.” [snip] “But the IAT measures something else. It measures our second level of attitude, our racial attitude on an unconscious level – the immediate, automatic associations that tumble out before we’ve even had time to think.”
I just took the test myself. I agree with Malcolm; the outcome from my test (I got the same result as Malcolm) left me feeling somewhat disturbed. Based on my conscious thoughts, I really did expect to come out with a result along the lines of “little or no preference one way or the other.” As Malcolm goes on to say:
“The disturbing thing about the test is that it shows that our unconscious attitudes may be utterly incompatible with our stated conscious values. As it turns out, for example, of the fifty thousand African Americans who have taken the Race IAT so far, about half of them, like me, have stronger associations with whites than with blacks. How could we not? We live in North America, where we are surrounded every day by cultural messages linking white with good.”
I tell you, this sort of thing certainly does provide a lot of food for thought… I will be pondering this for quite some time. Meanwhile, it would be great if you decided to try this test yourself and – if you wish – post a comment saying how you get on and whether or not you were surprised by your result
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