Does the implicit bias test correlate with behavior?

UO is now requiring members of search committees to take “implicit bias training”. The administration has hired diversity consultants to train the deans and others on it. I took a version offered at a recent BOT meeting, complete with doing the Implicit Association Test, and thought it was pretty interesting. But the facilitator did not spend much time explaining the scientific controversies about the research. The Chronicle has a good analysis of the disputes over whether the IAT is reliably repeatable, whether it correlates with behavior, and whether changes in the IAT correlate with changes in behavior, all motivated by several recent meta-analyses. Read it all here:

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Harvard, and the University of Virginia examined 499 studies over 20 years involving 80,859 participants that used the IAT and other, similar measures. They discovered two things: One is that the correlation between implicit bias and discriminatory behavior appears weaker than previously thought. They also conclude that there is very little evidence that changes in implicit bias have anything to do with changes in a person’s behavior. These findings, they write, “produce a challenge for this area of research.”

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3 Responses to Does the implicit bias test correlate with behavior?

  1. Free thinker says:

    “implicit bias training”, in other words, don’t think very hard about “systemic racism” and “affirmative action” in the same train of thought, it could get you into trouble.

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  2. just different says:

    Bias training for search committees is an excellent and long overdue idea. There is not only a lot of evidence that there is systemic bias in hiring, but there is also evidence that just being made conscious of your biases can do a lot to counteract them. However, I groaned when I saw that the IAT was going to be part of this training, because the weakness of the IAT as a scientific tool is going to make a worthy effort vulnerable to criticism that it doesn’t deserve.

    People have been using the IAT for a while now in the classroom to make students aware of their own biases; as a parlor trick or very primitive measure of the existence of bias, the IAT is “interesting,” but I cringe when I see someone try to use it as a reliable predictor of anything.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    Two comments:

    1. It’s important to distinguish the Implicit Association Test (IAT), which is a particular measurement technique, from implicit bias, which is a broad research domain that sometimes but certainly not always uses the IAT. The Chronicle article is about the IAT.

    2. Some of the controversy is about whether or how effective the IAT is as a diagnostic or predictive tool for assessing a single individual, which is a more demanding application than a research instrument used for studying population trends.

    I don’t think the mandatory implicit bias training conveyed a lot of nuance about the science. But it is very easy to be overly simplistic in any number of directions when interpreting and discussing the IAT. (I suspect that will sound familiar to many scientists who’ve seen work they’re closely familiar with covered in the press or translated from the lab to applications.)

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