Popular Test Gauges Your Racial, Gender Bias

A small psychology test has millions wondering if they're racist or not.

ByABC News
October 28, 2009, 2:34 PM

Oct. 29, 2009— -- Tell someone that he's sexist, ageist or racist nowadays and it's easy to get a red-faced defensive reaction. In modern times, men and women of all backgrounds would rather believe themselves to be benevolent egalitarians.

Yet, while few want to be known as a bigot, millions of people seem to wonder, "am I?" -- and going to the Project Implicit Web site to find out.

Started as a research tool at Yale in 1995, Project Implicit now has 11 million tests completed, and 20,000 new tests taken each week by Web surfers curious about their possible unconscious biases.

Participants are instructed to assign a class of attributes -- such as smart, lazy or failure -- to a single group of people -- such as women, Christians, or Americans -- with one or two keystrokes as fast as they can. The point is to measure the first reaction, not the self-edited one.

The conscious or unconscious preferences may include thoughts about pets, sports teams, religion or the most controversial – race.

"It's become the biggest behavioral science experiment ever. It just ballooned beyond our wildest imagination," said Brian Nosek, a professor at the University of Virginia and one of three initial creators of the project. Mahzarin Banaji, of Harvard University, and Tony Greenwald of the University of Washington also created the first Implicit Association Tests, or IATs.

"It is very flexible as a tool, but it is restricted to measure simple associations," said Nosek.

"The huge majority of people say this is very intriguing and it doesn't mean they agree with it," he added.

Nosek said the first IATs were designed to chip away at the question: Do we have complete access to our own minds and to the basis of our behaviors?

From the results of the 11 million tests finished so far, Nosek is willing to guess the answer is no.

"No we don't have complete access to our own minds," said Nosek. "I might be doing things -- deciding who to hire, who to help in my class -- by associations that I don't even know are there."