Creators of 'Implicit Bias Test' receive academic award

The professors who helped develop the controversial Implicit Association Test have been honored with the American Psychological Association’s highest award for scientific research.

Anthony G. Greenwald and Mahzarin R. Banaji, who teach at the University of Washington and Harvard University, respectively, are the recipients of the APA’s 2017 Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions for their work “identifying how the ordinary cognitive processes can produce biases.”

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The APA is the most influential trade association of psychology professionals in the United States. With more than 111,700 members, including psychology professors and students, it has a strong influence on higher education curriculum and teachings.

Mahzarin and Banaji have conducted seminal research on “implicit bias” since the early 1990s, leading to the creation of Project Implicit, an online test for the general public to assess their “implicit bias,” and the 2013 book The Blindspot, which aims to explore the “hidden biases we all carry around.”

According to Greenwald and Banaji, more than 14 million people globally have taken the online test since its creation in 1995. The test, which has been translated into 25 languages, allows people to test their “implicit bias” against black people, Muslims, native Americans, women, and other minorities.

Implicit bias theory has also received widespread recognition within academia. It is commonly taught during freshmen orientation, diversity workshops, and in college psychology classes. Some colleges, such as Harvard University, the University of Oregon, and the University of Missouri, even require “implicit bias” training for faculty.

[RELATED: Stanford hiring admin to teach profs about ‘implicit bias’]

But while implicit bias theory has received widespread approval in academia, various aspects of it have been subject to suspicion and criticism.

In theory, becoming aware of one’s own biases would help a person refrain from acting negatively towards minorities, but a 2017 meta-analysis reviewing 426 studies with more than 72,000 participants discovered that, while implicit bias can be changed, there is “little evidence that changes in implicit bias mediate changes in explicit bias or behavior.”

“Together, these findings suggest that implicit bias is malleable, but that changing implicit bias does not necessarily lead to changes in explicit bias or behavior,” concluded Patrick Forscher, a professor at the University of Arkansas.

Lee Jussim, a Rutgers University psychology professor, recently published a book arguing that the “skew towards the political left in psychology” research has distorted a great deal of research findings and its applications.

“The problem of political biases [is] particularly acute in social science areas that address politicized topics,” Jussim told Campus Reform in a November interview, explaining that research on “implicit bias” is one such highly politicized topic.

[RELATED: PhD: Pushing women into STEM could ‘diminish their happiness’]

In a statement to Campus Reform, APA awardee Anthony Greenwald acknowledged the concerns regarding implicit bias theory.

“Awards for scientific work are not measures of quality of the work—they are more indicators of acceptance within the profession. Banaji and I are fortunate that our work has received this approval. We are grateful. But not all of the attention that our work has received has been favorable,” Greenwald told Campus Reform.

“Also, we know that awards for our work are not the equivalent of establishing the scientific validity of our work,” he added. “This explains why we continue to conduct research to convince ourselves of the validity of our theories.”

Banaji, who is currently traveling abroad in India, was unable to respond to Campus Reform’s request for comment.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen