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  • Writer's pictureGozi Egbuonu

Testing for Implicit Bias: Accurate or Junk Science?

For an assignment in the Health Equity course for my doctorate degree in behavioral health, I was tasked with taking two Implicit Bias tests from Project Implicit. The first test I took was the Sexuality ('Gay - Straight') IAT, while the second one was the Religion or ('Religions') IAT.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Project Implicit, it is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1998 and consists of an international collaborative of researchers interested in implicit social cognition.

After reading the IAT background and taking it, I am a bit skeptical about how the test can truly detect implicit bias. I believe that if the practice versions began with the group associated with the bias being on the same side as "pleasant words," then I would be more inclined to believe implicit bias is at play once the switches occur. Because the practice sessions begin with the biased group being on the same side as negative words, those individuals who become too comfortable with that pattern will have a harder time when the switches occur.

One could also argue that putting the biased group on the same side as the negative word associations could negatively influence individuals who do not, in reality, have as much bias toward the biased group.

That being said, I am not a social cognition researcher or test designer, so my skepticism is purely based on my lack of knowledge/expertise in creating such tests.

My Test Scores

Below, you will find screenshots of my test scores for each of the IATs completed.

My Sexuality IAT Score

Percent of Web Respondents with Each Score

My Religion IAT Score

Percent of Web Respondents with Each Score for Christianity vs. Judaism and Christianity vs. Islam

Percent of Web Respondents with Each Score for Judaism vs. Islam

With the Sexuality IAT, I was more frustrated with my results than I was with the Religion IAT. I believe that frustration has to do with the misalignment between my conscious beliefs about the LGBTQIA community and the implicit bias suggested by my test score. That frustration is likely what is driving my skepticism about the test's design. My commitment to LGBTQIA allyship and advocating alongside members of the LGBTQIA community for equal and equitable rights has made me feel like any unconscious or implicit bias would be in opposition to my strongly held core beliefs. That, of course, creates feelings of guilt and shame and makes me worry that I am holding on to unconscious discriminatory beliefs.

Yet, the scores associated with my Religion IAT are more understandable. I am a Christian, which would likely make me more automatically biased toward that religion versus Judaism. Consciously, though, I don't know if I favor one religion over another. There was a time in my life when I seriously considered converting to Judaism. Thus, I am inclined to believe that I only slightly prefer Christianity over Judaism. While that is not "moderate" like my implicit bias score, it still suggests that there is some alignment with my conscious beliefs about both religions.

Overall, this tool was helpful to me for one main reason: it forced me to be even more conscious of how I show up and support the communities toward whom I may have implicit bias. My implicit bias may never go away completely, and that's mainly because I am impacted and influenced by societal biases no matter how much I try to remove them from my conscious mind. As long as I stay committed to diversity, equity, inclusivity, and justice work, I can continue to fight the implicit bias(es) that aim to prolong inequities and divide all of us. As a DBH, this means being an advocate for members of biased and minority groups, educating myself on ways the healthcare system negatively impacts those groups, and trying to work closely with other healthcare professionals to help them be aware of how their own implicit bias could be resulting in negative health outcomes for marginalized groups. Awareness is critical to helping tear down the impacts of bias. I can use my education, career, and dedication to equity to improve care delivery to the communities I serve.

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