Implicit Racism in our Society and the Harvard Implicit Association Test Essay Sample

The Harvard University’s Implicit Association Test is used to measure a person’s level of unconscious bias. The test administers a variety of assessments to determine the subject’s views on certain issues, such as gender, race, disability and weight. I chose to test my subconscious attitudes about European and African Americans. Before taking the Implicit Association Test, I did not think that I had a bias towards European Americans. I was very surprised that my test results proved that I do have a moderate bias toward European Americans. I chose to analyze the Implicit Association Test on race because racial prejudice is a persistent problem in the United States that often gets overlooked.

The Implicit Association Test begins with a short questionnaire that encourages the subject to think about their explicit associations based on race. Explicit associations are thoughts, attitudes and feelings that we are aware of and actively control. Next, the test presents words to be sorted into two categories as quickly as possible. The first section involves categorizing faces as African American or European, then the test gives a list of words with good and bad connotations that the subject must sort into the categories “good” and “bad.” The words and the faces are then combined and the subject must sort both the “good” and “bad” words along with the African American and European American faces. The words and faces are switched from one side to the other and sorted once more before the test results are revealed.

Sorting words with negative and positive connotations along with race enables the Implicit Association Test to determine a person’s subconscious feelings about African Americans and European Americans. The more closely the two concepts are related in a person’s mind, the faster they will match them together. Matching unrelated terms takes more time and signifies a dissociation of the concepts. Comparing the amount of time it takes to sort positive and negative words when paired with African Americans and European Americans gives a good indicator of a person’s subconscious feelings about the two ethnic groups. The purpose of the Implicit Association Test is to bring one’s unconscious prejudices to light. The test illustrates the pervasiveness of stereotypes in our society. We are not always aware of our feelings, but these feelings influence our perception of the world.

The racial prejudices that are pervasive in our society are overlooked and it is easy to believe that racism is disappearing A stereotype is a belief that members of a group possess a common characteristic. This belief is then applied to individuals in the group. Members of the group are judged on the basis of their membership in the group rather than their individual characteristics. An implicit stereotype is subconscious, yet it has a great effect on a person’s actions and behavior. Implicit stereotypes have the ability to alter our perception and therefore influence our interpretation of the world around us. Implicit stereotypes are so deeply rooted in the mind that they do not require active cognition. They are an automatic reaction that influences our behavior.

The effect implicit stereotypes have on real peoples’ lives can be seen in the job application process. Identical resumes were mailed to hiring employers. Half of the resumes had typical African American names and half of the resumes had typical European American names. The resumes with European American names received 50% more responses than the resumes with African American names. Since the resumes contained the same educational background and work history, the discrepancy in responses can be attributed to the names on the resumes.

This example demonstrates the enormous impact that implicit stereotypes have on our daily lives. African Americans are at a disadvantage when it comes to competing in the workplace. Implicit stereotypes also affect our interactions with others. A school cafeteria with tables of all African American or all European American students eating together is an example of implicit prejudice. The students are not purposely discriminating against the other group; they are unconsciously excluding students who are not the same ethnicity as them.

We all have certain attitudes, beliefs and prejudices that we are not aware of. It is natural to be shocked by the results of the Implicit Association Test. Since the results are based on your subconscious thoughts and feelings, the results can be surprising. A great deal of our thought processes takes place on the subconscious level. Subconscious thoughts are created by frequent exposure to ideas and concepts. Repeated contact with an ideology causes the idea to be internalized to the point that you are not aware that you believe it. The Implicit Association Test identifies these biases.

The Implicit Association Test, however, does not predict whether a person will act on their biases. The Implicit Association Test accurately gauges implicit biases because it delves into our subconscious to determine whether we feel positively or negatively about African Americans and European Americans. It tests our automatic associations between positive and negative words and African Americans and European Americans. The subject cannot sensor their answers, the results are simple a representative of the person’s implicit thoughts.

I think that taking the Implicit Association Test is an eye opening experience because it is difficult to learn about our subconscious self. A person must be aware of his biases before he can limit the impact they have. The Implicit Association Test does not come without limitations. It is difficult to determine what exactly the Implicit Association Test is measuring because the test may reflect a person’s familiarity rather than their personal biases or it may evaluate the biases of society rather than of indivudals. A person may be part of a racist society, but not accept the racist ideas that surround him. Therefore, the results of the Implicit Association Test may reflect the general culture’s views rather than the individual’s.

In his study, Wittenbrink (1997) found that implicit and explicit attitudes are consistent with one another. If this is the case, the Implicit Association Test may be just as useful as a simple questionnaire. I don’t necessarily agree with Wittenbrink’s arguments because Subjects can lie on questionnaires so they do not sound racist. I believe that the Implicit Association Test is much more accurate than a questionnaire. The Implicit Association Test could be used to research the implicit prejudices of people in power. It would be very interesting to see the Implicit Association Test results of people such as the president and vice president. The test could be used to research the effect that the media has on implicit prejudice. Subjects could take the Implicit Association Test before and after viewing strong media images. The effects of media images on implicit prejudice could be measured by the difference between the before and after test results. This research could provide insight on the roots of racism.

At first I was hesitant to trust the results of the Implicit Association Test. I could not grasp the fact that I am not in control of my thoughts and feelings. It took time to realize that my subconscious prejudices are real. Taking the Implicit Association Test was a positive experience for me personally. I did not expect my test results to say that I have a moderate automatic preference for European Americans. I am not proud of my test results and it was upsetting to learn about my implicit biases, but I am happy that I am now aware of my biases and I will take steps in the future to limit their effects on my behavior. This exercise gave me quite a bit of insight about prejudice. It seems that racism is on a decline, but it may only be less obvious than in the past.


Wittenbrink, B., Judd, C. M., Park, B. (1997). Evidence for racial prejudice at the implicit level and its relationship with questionnaire measures. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology. Vol 72(2), 262-274.