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Eye on Psi Chi: Winter 2014
Some Implicit
Assembly Required
With Anthony Greenwald, PhD

By Bradley Cannon, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Dr. Anthony Greenwald of the University of Washington did not receive his most important academic revelations in a preassembled package. Instead, in his words, it wasn’t until 1975 that "it dawned on me that things I had been thinking about for some time were pieces that fit together to make a surprising picture of the way one’s self works” (Greenwald, 1994, p. 4). In fact Dr. Greenwald’s primary ideas came together, surprisingly enough, with a thematic boost from George Orwell’s anti-utopian political novel, 1984. However, maybe such an implicit and unusual source of inspiration is fitting for the Implicit Association Test (IAT) that Dr. Greenwald went on to invent in 1995, which in itself is about identifying unspoken and often unrecognized thought.

Throughout his career, Dr. Greenwald has published over 180 journal articles. He also recently coauthored a book called Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People with Dr. Mahzarin Banaji of Harvard University (MA), whom he has known since 1980 when she became a PhD student at Ohio State University. Looking back today, Dr. Greenwald says, "We’ve had a good relationship for a long time and it was easy to work with her on Blindspot. It was a long process just because of the coordination necessary between two authors and because we both have very high standards. In fact, we worked long enough on the book that we were able to draw several new conclusions that we couldn’t have made when we started out, due to research progress after we started the book.”

Teaching Others
"Dr. Banaji and I jointly believed that the work we were doing on Blindspot was of interest to general audiences and that it had practical applications that many could take advantage of if they understood the underlying science. We knew that writing journal articles alone could not achieve that, and now the book is currently in the process of being translated into several languages. A paperback edition will also be available, so that is inevitably helping us reach a wider audience.”

Indeed, at some point in almost any psychology student’s academic career, he or she has probably heard of hidden biases and the IAT created to test those biases. The availability of Dr. Greenwald’s work has also spread to the Internet, largely through Project Implicit. In his own words, Project Implicit is "a not-for-profit organization with a mission of advancing the science of implicit social cognition. It does this through a very active Internet presence (at and various educational outreach activities. Certainly, the majority of IATs have been experienced through the website. There are maybe 40 countries that have their own website and perhaps 25 or more are in languages other than English. Many research publications use variations of the IAT. Researchers are continually creating new forms of the test.

"The IAT’s most immediate societal impact may be in altering the way courts understand the phenomena of prejudice and discrimination. The concept of implicit bias has been gradually incorporated into court decisions in discrimination cases, and legal scholars (law school professors) have been very active in writing law review articles that seek to explain implicit bias to their colleagues and to the judiciary.” Dr. Greenwald adds that his research is applied in many other places too.

"Perhaps the main practical use of the IAT is educational, achieved both by experiencing the IAT directly, and we add to that by giving lectures to a variety of types of nonscientist groups. For example, Dr. Banaji has lectured to the entire freshman class at Yale. And there has been television coverage actually quite early on since Nightline did an hour-long show in 2000 on prejudice with almost half of the program devoted to the IAT. That got us a fair amount of attention and actually triggered such a huge demand for our website that it crashed the site for a while. The IAT is also used in an education format in industries and corporations for diversity training to appoint managers with the idea that hidden biases may influence their decisions.

"Today, approximately 15 million have taken the IAT on the Internet, and no doubt tens of thousands—perhaps over 100,000—have taken it in laboratory research studies.”

About the IAT
IATs measure implicit bias, a term that was specifically chosen instead of racism because there is a big distinction between the two. According to Dr. Greenwald, "The Race IAT is described as measuring automatic White preference, a term that avoids characterizing the IAT as a measure of dislike toward any racial group. In other words, automatic White preference can occur when both White and Black are liked, but the White group is liked more.

"The IAT measures the strengths of associations between concepts. It is a very flexible measure, and many perceptions can be represented by words or visual images and plugged into variations of the IAT. Availability of the IAT has enabled psychologists and others to learn how associations among concepts relate to behavior. In particular, there have been surprising findings about race (Blacks on average show almost no racial preference), age (elderly show just as much youth preference as younger ages), and sex (women show male-favoring gender stereotypes somewhat more strongly than men do.”

To Anyone in Doubt
If you have ever taken an IAT, then you may have been disheartened by the results, and you probably didn’t want to believe what you found out. Dr. Greenwald knows this better than anyone. In his experience, "Reactions to the IAT vary quite widely, ranging—in the case of the Race IAT—from ‘How remarkable, I never would have expected that I had an automatic preference for Whites’ to ‘This is impossible. Who are those scientists to tell me that I have an automatic racial preference? This is junk science.’ ” However, the people who take the time to study the IAT and still don’t support it are a very small group. "They are mainly people who are being paid to defend corporations in discrimination lawsuits where the plaintiffs are using the concept of implicit bias to explain the causes of discrimination that may be occurring unintentionally. The defendants in these suits are put into a position to defend themselves with the aid of a few psychologists willing to serve as experts.”

Future Research
Largely thanks to the flexibility and many applications of Greenwald’s IAT, new research topics are expanding and others are being further advanced. "Probably because it has been more of a subject for study by sociologists, social psychologists have relatively ignored the study of attitudes and stereotypes related to social status differences, including wealth versus poverty. This will certainly change in the near future. The study of stereotypes associated with religions, and with religious versus nonreligious people, has long suffered relative, though not total, neglect in psychology too.”

There is only one way to prevent such neglect from taking place. Thus, when you eventually come to terms with your IAT results, maybe you too will examine and join the many researchers looking to study and even decrease implicit bias itself.

"Already, a fair amount of research has been done to reduce implicit bias. Such work can be conducted in a single-session lab experiment, and it has been shown to produce mild reductions in implicit biases, including in race and some gender stereotypes. There are only a few long-term multi-session studies, and there haven’t been enough yet to establish that durable reductions are achievable. This is somewhat telling that decreasing biases must be very difficult to do. The Devine, Forscher, Austin, and Cox (2012) study is one of the best, and I think that if there were more like that one, we might have a better basis for thinking that durable modifications of implicit biases are possible.”

Methods and Statistics for Your Success
"Many psychologists turn out to be limited in what they can do after obtaining their PhDs because they did not focus enough on statistical methods in their PhD training to reach a point at which they could effectively continue their statistics education after getting their PhDs. Trust me when I say this is necessary because statistical methods are not frozen—they continue to develop. My experience working with the IAT convinced me of how important methods are in scientific progress. Some put theory ahead of method. However, for most of the work I’ve done, novel methods have produced empirical results that could not have been imagined before the method existed. These findings in turn suggested theory.”

To learn more, read Greenwald et al. (2002), which provides a strong example of theory having emerged from results. Also check out Greenwald (2012) on Dr. Greenwald’s conception of the importance of method itself.

Banaji, M. R., Greenwald, A. G. (2013). Blindspot: Hidden biases of good people. New York, NY: Delacorte Press

Devin, P. G., Forscher, P. S., Austin, A. J., Cox, W. T. L. (2012). Longterm reduction in implicit race bias: A prejudice habit-breaking intervention. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 1267–1278. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2012.06.003

Greenwald, A. G. (1994). Getting (my) self into social psychology. In G. G. Brannigan & M. R. Merrens (Eds.), The social psychologists (pp.3–16). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Greenwald, A. G. (2012). There is nothing so theoretical as a good method. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7, 99–108. doi:10.1177/1745691611434210

Greenwald, A. G., Banaji, M. R., Rudman, L. A., Farnham, S. D., Nosek, B. A., & Mellott, D. S. (2002). A unified theory of implicit attitudes, stereotypes, self-esteem, and self-concept. Psychological Review, 109, 3–25. doi:10.1037//0033-295X.109.1.3

Anthony G. Greenwald, PhD, is professor of psychology at the University of Washington. He received a BA from Yale (CT) and PhD from Harvard (MA). His recent research has been on implicit and unconscious cognition, especially applied to phenomena of stereotyping and prejudice and the mental processing of subliminal stimuli. He has received the Distinguished Scientist Award from the Society of Experimental Social Psychology, the Lifetime Achievement Award (William James Fellow) from the Association for Psychology Science, and is an elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Copyright 2014 (Volume 18, Issue 2) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology



Eye on Psi Chi is a magazine designed to keep members and alumni up-to-date with all the latest information about Psi Chi’s programs, awards, and chapter activities. It features informative articles about careers, graduate school admission, chapter ideas, personal development, the various fields of psychology, and important issues related to our discipline.

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