Understanding Prejudice
Understanding Prejudice
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Exercises and Demonstrations
Frequently Asked Questions: Race IAT

This page contains answers to several frequently asked questions about the Black-White Implicit Association Test (IAT). For further information, see the general FAQ Page or the Gender IAT Page.

1. If I first had to group White items with pleasant words and later had trouble grouping Black items with pleasant words, could my test score have been the result of this task order?

The order in which tests are administered does make a difference, but not a large one (and it rarely changes the direction of the outcome). Because of this difference, tests on this web site randomize the order of presentation. To check whether the order made a difference in your case, you can take the test a few more times and see what your score is when the order is reversed. If your score changes depending on the order of presentation, the best estimate of your result is somewhere in the middle.

2. Could a racial preference be caused by having more familiarity with certain race-related items (e.g., White faces) than others?

Laboratory studies suggest that automatic preferences are not simply a result of greater familiarity. For example, when the familiarity of names is varied in Black-White or young-old tests, the results do not change. Moreover, none of the faces used in the race test on this web site should be familiar, because they were all computer-generated with a technique known as morphing (that is, they were not the faces of real people).

3. Could a racial preference be caused by differences in attractiveness between the IAT's White and Black faces?

This possibility is unlikely for at least two reasons. First, the faces used in IAT research are often composite, or blended, images based on faces that are similar in perceived attractiveness. Second, and more importantly, IAT results tend to be even stronger when the test uses names rather than faces (that is, when it uses words rather than images). These findings suggest that the IAT reflects racial biases, not simply differences in facial attractiveness.

4. Why are faces being used to represent White and Black people?

In addition to faces, several experiments have used names to represent Black and White people. For example, names such as Tyrone, Malik, and Jamel have been used to represent Black Americans, and names such as Scott, Ryan, and Geoff have been used to represent White Americans. The difficulty with names is that they may not accurately represent the two groups (especially Black Americans, many of whom have traditional Anglo-Saxon names). For this reason, the Black-White IAT on this web site uses faces.

In laboratory research on the Black-White IAT, the results have been similar regardless of whether the test uses names or unknown faces. Of course, there are many other ways to represent a group (e.g., by language, geography, cultural practices, and so on). Faces are an obvious choice because they are so easy to classify.

5. If White test takers show a preference for White over Black, does this imply a kind of "ingroup" favoritism similiar to favoring one's own family members and neighbors?

For White respondents, a preference for Whites may sometimes stem from an ingroup preference. However, a White preference is known to be more than that because it has been observed with equal strength among Asian Americans, for whom neither Black nor White is an ingroup. A preference for Whites may therefore reflect an attitude that is learned simply by living in a culture that devalues Black Americans.

6. Do Black test takers show a preference for Black over White?

This question is the subject of ongoing research. Although White test takers tend to prefer White over Black, the results from Black test takers are more varied. Some Black people prefer Black over White, others show no preference, and still others prefer White over Black.

7. If my test results suggest a White preference, does this mean I'm prejudiced?

Psychologists typically use the word "prejudiced" to describe people who endorse or approve of negative attitudes and behavior toward various outgroups. Many people who show a White preference on the Black-White IAT are not prejudiced by this definition. These people are able to behave in a relatively unprejudiced way in part by making active efforts to prevent their automatic White preference from leading to discriminatory behavior. However, in the absence of active efforts, these people may still be prone to prejudiced thoughts or behavior.

8. Do automatic preferences occur outside the United States with other racial and ethnic groups?

Yes. Studies using the IAT have documented a variety of automatic preferences among several Asian, European, and Australian groups. Mounting evidence suggests that automatic preferences may be a cross-culturally universal phenomenon.