August 27, 2007

What's That THING In My Brain?

A while back Crabby took a test and discovered something unexpected and malignant hidden within her brain. Don't worry; it wasn't a tumor! This was not a medical test.

However, it was very, very creepy.

Crabby discovered a shocking Unconscious Prejudice of which she was completely unaware!

If you can spare a few minutes, you might want to find out if you have a similar affliction. (It's not a really quick test, and there are a number of things you have to click to get going, but it's worth persevering.) Crabby is hoping at least a few of you will go to this website and give one of these a try--then you can please tell her why the whole concept behind the tests is completely flawed and the results don't mean anything at all. Because unfortunately, from what Crabby could tell it all looked pretty legitimate. Perhaps they mean some other "Harvard University?" There's got to be more than one, right?

Anyway, for those of you who don't have the time or patience for these things, here's the deal:

You can choose among a variety of subjects to test your unconscious biases--there are tests on race and age and weight, etc.

You then answer a bunch of questions that measure your conscious attitudes toward your chosen subject.

Then you take the test! You have to make quick determinations about things--too quick to allow your conscious mind be entirely in charge of the process.

Then you find out your results.

The good news is, not everyone harbors terrible unconscious biases! The bad news: a lot of us who do are completely unaware of it.

Check this out: Crabby is (ulp) homophobic. Just try explaining this to the Lobster! This was NOT the result she expected.

She needs some of you smarty-pants scientists to help her out here. This can not be right!

Because if THAT unlikely bit of nastiness could be residing in her brain, leaving no conscious trace, what the hell else could be down there?

Even if you don't feel like taking one of the tests, Crabby is very curious as to whether you all feel you might harbor unconscious attitudes that are in contradiction to what you Actually Think about things. Ever been surprised at yourself? At other people you know?


  1. I did the first one, same as you. Let's just say that I won't share the results with my husband. ;-)

    I like taking tests like this from time to time. It's nice to take a test that you can't fail - although for some of them, you are left scratching your head trying to figure out where on earth those interpretations came from.

  2. I asked a very wise friend once about how to change. She said, 'Just fake it till you make it!' It actually works quite well and is worth considering. So, Crabby, just pretend you are not 'phobic', and it will pass :-)


  3. I started to take the test then decided it was biased. Just a feeling I got, right away, without thinking about it.
    As well, it gave me the option of "some college" and then went on to degrees. I have a diploma so that option annoyed me right away. "Some college" and college graduate are not the same and neither are degree and diploma.
    As far as your result is concerned, umm, that should tell you the value of the test right there.

    I'm quite sure that I harbor unconscious attitudes that fly in the face of what I think I believe. We're challeneged every day to look at our beliefs and change them as needed.

    Interesting post, Crabby. Made me think.

  4. I'm a bit suspicious of the fact that on the screen where you choose the tests, they say, "this test often reveals a strong preference for young over old/straight over gay/white over black/thin over fat".

    Obviously, they get those results because they're expecting to. :p

    My opinion on this has nothing to do with the fact that the site said that I have a strong preference for young faces over old ones. :p

  5. Marijke,
    Well, I THOUGHT I liked taking these tests sometimes, but... yikes!

    Hi Dr. J,
    Good advice! Though I don't know how I could "fake" not being homophobic any better than being married to a gal for 17 years. Ah well. I so thought the results would be different!

    Leah, very funny! But yeah, it's challenge enough to work on our known prejudices. I was surprise to find out how sneaky they could be!

    Thanks Chicken Girl--I'm sure then entire reason I came out homophobic was the suggestion that many people are... oh wait. I already knew that. Sigh. (At least I'm glad I'm not the only one whose test results came out differently than they hoped or suspected!)

  6. I've taken a few of these tests before, with mixed results. Today I tried the same one as you, and fell into 17% of the test population with the conclusion "Your data suggest little to no automatic preference between Gay People and Straight People."

    I'm sure there is a reasonable amount of truth behind most results though I'm not sure that simply distinguishing who we perceive as minority from the mainstream is in itself an implicit prejudice.

    They set the test up in such a way that it trains you to make certain associations, valid or not, and then shakes it up some, and determines your results by how quickly and correctly you answer in each instance. I would think that no matter what, that second part of the test would render most of us a tad more hesitant to hit the required "E" or "I" key because the brain is still reorganizing itself by dealing with unloading the first learned response, and by trying to focus on the new categorization.

    Strangely enough, I had to stop and think each time the words "homosexual" and "heterosexual" came up. I'm not ordinarily confused by them, but in this instance, when quick responses were required, they appeared quite similar to me. As much as I'd like to think that my inability to readily notice the difference between the two words symbolizes how I feel in reality, I know it's just a text comprehension issue.

    And E also havi a tindincy to confusi thi littirs E and I whin typeng. ;)

  7. Well, it's Monday, and I don't feel like taking any tests today, but as I was scrolling by the previous post titles the Designer hoo hoo title caught my eye and I had to tell you that I was flipping chanels and Dr. 90210 was on and he was performing a hoo-hoo-ectomy or otomy...whatever!!!!and they showed the part he cut off. It was totally disgusting laying there on the surgical table. Just had to share!!! ICK!!!

    I just realized this whole comment is one sentence. I think I better lay off the coffee for a while!

  8. Don't worry about it too much. I used to take those tests all the time when I was procrastinating, and it was... just weird, the things it said I was and wasn't prejudiced about. AND- if you retake it a few times, it can change, as you get used to the system of taking the test. When they do these in labs, they hook up electrodes on your head to measure your reaction without having to measure your co-ordination.

    Finally... it doesn't matter. We all have some prejudices deep in the back of our minds that we are ashamed of. We have them because our parents and/or our culture put them there, perhaps years ago when the climate of opinion was different. So what? You obviously are not consciously homophobic, that seems clear. You probably are not consciously racist.

    It is not what some reflex in the back of your head thinks that counts. You, and the decisions you consciously make, and the way really treat others, are what matters, and those are all things you can control.

  9. Hilary,
    Well good for you for being in the (what I would consider) Top 17%!

    I was not only homophobic, but as I recall, even more homophobic than average.

    I have pretty lousy reactions times because I tend to over-think things, even when speed is called for. (Can't seem to help it). So I had this whole theory going about how the ambiguous characters might look even MORE ambiguous to a gay person, because of being less likely (my reasoning went) to jump to conclusions about people's gender based on stereotypical clues and therefore even slower to be able to identify pictures of people as being male or female.

    Then of course I realized I should be just as hindered classifying those ambiguous figures as Good Ambiguous Figures versus Bad Ambiguous Figures. So that sort of shot that theory. I still find the whole thing disturbing and perplexing!

    Holly, oh my goodness! They actually SHOWED a hoo-hoo-ectomy on TV, including excised hoo hoo parts? That's a bit much even for me. Thanks so much for sharing! :) (Actually, you took my mind right off my internalized homophobia!)

  10. Sorry, Hedgehog, missed you there as I was posting a comment. As I may have mentioned--I'm not a speedy Crab.

    Thanks for the reassurance! And by the way, looks like a fun blog you're starting up.

    Readers: NEW BLOG ALERT! It looks like Hedgehog has just started up a brand new blog and you can get in on it from the very beginning! It's always fun to catch someone from the start. Just click on Hedgehog's blue comment name and link on through to the blog.

  11. Hmmm...I took the sexuality and weight one and answers were opposite what I thought.
    The test seems I wonder - how about the whole left handed right handed problem? Plus I have no fast hand eye coordination to begin wtih, so if they were looking a tthe times of my responses to guage things, they probably won't get too much out of it.
    Seems like an interesting idea, but I wouldn't put too much into it myself...any test based on speed would muck me up right away!

  12. Hi Geosomin!
    Hooray, more reassurance! And from a Smart Scientist! On the other hand, since they flip all the values around eventually, I'm still wondering why reaction times to classify things as "good" versus "bad" wouldn't be equally affected by anything that slows one down. It might put a lot of noise in the data, but it shouldn't really bias it in one direction or the other, should it?

    (However, I actually took this test several weeks ago and may be remembering it wrong!)

  13. Well of course you are homophobic!
    Mrs.J can scare the heck out of me also!


  14. "Your data suggest little or no association between Female and Male with Science and Liberal Arts."

    Yay! What a great test! Thanks for the link!

  15. I wonder if you'd get the same results if they flipped the test around - I notice all the tests start with pairing good and bad with whichever word is culturally the "accepted" one. If they start with homosexuality=bad and heterosexuality=good (which is how they're trying to prove people's prejudices, right?), then move on to the reverse (rather than vice versa), would you get the same results?

    My take on it is this - we grew up with certain associations (both good and bad) in our childhoods, whether through parents or media. And I don't feel like if I score with one group higher than another, that necessarily means I'm biased to one group over another, just that it reflects my cultural upbringing.

  16. Dr. J,
    Alas, the Lobster is not even a little bit frightening! But I'm still searching for more benign answer. (And I'm sure Mrs. J would have to cultivate a certain amount of Fearsomeness just to keep you in line!)

    Soap Box Girl,
    Darn, I'm jealous! And actually, I can tell without even taking that particular test I'd come out biased. When (and where) I went to school, men far outnumbered women in our math/science classes, and the women dominated the liberal arts. I'm sure that must have stuck with me.

    Hi Leth!
    That seems like a really good point. I only took one test, so didn't know the order of the pairings were always the same and weren't random. You'd think they would have randomized that, wouldn't you? That definitely seems like it could skew the results! (Unless they did randomize it, and all yours just happened to be in the same order). At some point I should go back and try to check this out. Thanks!

  17. "Your data suggest little to no automatic preference between Fat People and Thin People." *sniff* i ♥ you all

  18. that made my head hurt. "Your data suggest little or no association between Male and Female with Science and Liberal Arts." YAY! You go female sciencymathyengineeringy types!

    did that make anyone else feel like they were playing a video game?

  19. "Your data suggest little to no automatic preference between Straight People and Gay People."

    Hmmm...there were a few time in the last section when I kept associating "bad" with "gay" that I though I would get a strong preference to straight people. It wasn't on purpose, but the first couple of sections have you pressing the same keys for gay and bad so I kept messing up. I tend to way over analyze things though.

  20. Marie and Bridget and Noah, damn it, how come you people are so much more evolved than I am?

    I bet you can all twirl your right feet clockwise while drawing a sixes in the air too. (See above, otherwise that would make absolutely no sense!)

  21. Apparently, I have a slight preference for fat people. Not very surprising considering that my parents were overweight when I was growing-up and I've thought of myself as being "thin," even when I was thinner, heh.

    I still find it funny though because my husband is very tall and lean.

  22. Don't worry Crabby in my next quiz I got this:

    "Your data suggest a moderate automatic preference for Thin People compared to Fat People."

    So I'm not as evolved as you though. :)

  23. Oh my gosh Crabby, HOW DID YOU GET HOMOPHOBIC?! And what does Lobster think... maybe she's homophobic too?

    I took that one and it said I moderately preferred gay people over straight people... well if they're female, then yeah... I want a wife. Ha. It was so apparent to me that I'd get that answer because I always wanted to pair words like beautiful and glorious with gay, especially after the lesbian symbols.

    But true to my Catholic nature I twicce messed up and tried to put pleasure with the bad. ha ha.

    Interesting indeed. But since we just confirmed that this lesbian prefers gay people, we can't say the test was completely flawed....

  24. I went back to the site and took a couple more of the tests. Turns out I have a moderate preference for fat people and *GASP!* a strong preference for straight people.

    Maybe we should start an Unconscious Prejudices Anonymous group?

    My name is Cassie, and I'm unconsciously homophobic!

  25. I started one of these but wasn't able to finish. Aaron saw me and thought I was playing a computer game. (Yeah! A really fun green and white and black vocabulary game.) I might go back and try again when I can concentrate. But I think you've got some smart commenters.

    (And thanks again so much for your kindness over the past couple of days- It's much appreciated :)

  26. you're all killing me with worrying about being homophobic! At first I was putting thought into what button I should push ,thinking they were somehow trick questions and pictures. Then it dawned on me it was just a matter of adapting to using a new set of instructions. I know when they first put gay and bad together I was a little pissed at what I thought was a message...then it changed the grouping and my light bulb came on. I was surprised it didn't tell me to hurry up because it really made me wonder if the test was just trying to trip us all the stick figures (both in pants) could've been a straight couple...I don't know very many women that wear dresses often. I myself don't even own one anymore(phew!) And the two in "dresses" may not have even been dresses at all...possibly husband and wife in hospital gowns! See? How can they give anyone a score? It did get my curiosity aroused to see how they "interpreted" my automatic preference to gay or straight...if they only knew!

  27. Wow, thanks Lisa, Noah, Meg, ChickenGirl, and Katieo for checking out the test! Some great thoughts about what it all means, too, and it definitely helps me feel better about the Doofy results I got!

  28. Oops, sorry Carrie didn't mean to leave off your name. And I had the same problem figuring out the gender of the figures!

  29. I don't have a prejudiced bone in my body and no test devised by a buncha pointy-headed, pocket-protector-wearing nerds is going to convince me otherwise!

  30. Well said, Frank! Me neither. Buncha geeks.

  31. I did the presidents and it said I preferred Bush (strongly) over Roosevelt! Completely inaccurate!!

  32. I did the career/family one and got "little or no association", but I found it amazingly hard not to put Office with Family. (I work from home. How do they control for that, I wonder?) I also wondered, doing this from dial up, how the connection speed affects your response time.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  33. Hi Mary Anne!
    I never even thought of the dial-up issue. I haven't taken the career/family one but that's a good point about home offices. Good for you for having no association! I'm almost afraid to take another after the results of the first one were so depressing.

  34. I read a book recently called "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking" which deals with subconscious bias and something called thin-slicing. It has to do with our brains making assumptions without letting us know about it, often felt as a "gut" feeling. The author of the book, who is mixed race, took the race test and found he had a strong preference for white over black faces. I think mass media feeds us all images having to do with darker-skinned people committing more crimes, etc, which like it or not have a subconscious impact. The author of the book took the race test every day to see where his biases were and how they changed, and found the only time it returned a preference for dark faces over light faces was a day when he took it after watching Nigerian athletes competing in the Olympics on TV... so we can change those very low-level biases. It's all about what we choose to expose ourselves to.

    Love your blog, by the way, I've been lurking for quite some time

  35. Martha,
    I meant to read "Blink" but never got around to it--so thanks for sharing that, that was fascinating! And thanks so much for you visit.


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