Thursday, November 17, 2011

Enjoy Explicit Personal Insights with Project Implicit

Earlier this week we talked about citizen science tools for understanding neurology.  They allow everyday people to record electrical signals sent through an animal's nervous system and perform scientific analyses on it.  But while this is a great tool for learning about the chemistry and physiology of animal bodies (and even animal brains), they don't look deep into what people are actually thinking.   So today I wanted to look at an important psychology project that attempts to read parts of your mind you most want to hide.

Project Implicit is a social science and psychology project different from the many other projects described before on this blog.  For starters it's a survey project where participants act as the test subjects.  It's also a project that can provide many personal insights about your own hidden feelings.  But the biggest difference is the profound impact it is having on society and how we look at the most sensitive areas of our culture: racial and gender bias.

Personal prejudice is a touchy subject that has plagued our country for decades and which we strive to overcome. While we all know the harms these biases cause, and while we are taught from an early age to rid ourselves of them, they remain a problem.  But why is this so? How come our society can seem to get past these irrational racial and gender biases?  A group of researchers based at Harvard and  think they've found an answer and have developed Project Implicit to test these theories.

Project Implicit is a web-based platform that tests people for innate mental biases.  But they aren't just asking people if they are biased..many people would lie about this answer out of personal shame or in an attempt to deny their own biases.  This test can see through all that.  Instead they ask people to perform word-association tasks at a fast rate where any internal bias will slow the person down and force them to commit more errors.  The amount of slowdown and error rate roughly approximate the amount of bias each person is trying to overcome.

A good example is a test provided on gender.  Most people (rightly or wrongly) associate money and income with males while associating warmth and personal caring to females.  By asking a series of questions that require users to associate females with income and males with personal caring, the researchers can see how difficult it is for your mind to switch gears and turn off it's innate prejudice. 

But enough of these descriptions, participate in the project yourself to understand the theory better.

Getting Started is Easy:
  1. Visit the Project Implicit Background site to read information on how the project's basis and scientific goals.
  2. Click on the Project Implicit home page.  If you want to just take a demonstration test without providing your answers to researchers, click on "Demonstration".  To fully participate, click on "Research" to register with the site.  You must provide an email address along with birth date, race, religion, and personal information.  But it is only used to better understand and interpret your results.
  3. Review the Informed Consent form (for both the Demonstration and Research sites) which describes the project in more detail and provides warnings about the possible harm caused by probing your biases.  It's not a physical harm but some people may be disturbed by the results of their own tests.
  4. Once you consent, click "Next" to take the test. In many cases you will be shown a word and asked to hit a keyboard letter depending on the attribute it is associated with.  It's actually pretty simple...just follow the directions on the screen.
That's all there is to it.  Go check it out and work through some of the tests.  It only takes 15-20 minutes of your time and is not that complicated.  You'll benefit from the insights it can provide, and help researchers better understand, and combat, these personal biases.


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