Implicit associations = STEREOTYPES.

Guest blogger Nora again; howdy! With a short (for me) post!

Some of you may have seen this article about how “implicit associations” (i.e., biases) impact medical treatment already. The gist of it is this:

In the new study, trainee doctors in Boston and Atlanta took a 20-minute computer survey designed to detect overt and implicit prejudice. They were also presented with the hypothetical case of a 50-year-old man stricken with sharp chest pain; in some scenarios the man was white, while in others he was black.

“We found that as doctors’ unconscious biases against blacks increased, their likelihood of giving [clot-busting] treatment decreased,” said the lead author of the study, Dr. Alexander R. Green of Massachusetts General Hospital. “It’s not a matter of you being a racist. It’s really a matter of the way your brain processes information is influenced by things you’ve seen, things you’ve experienced, the way media has presented things.” (emphasis mine)

And that, boys and girls and gender-transcendants, is why stereotypes are bad.

(I’m struck by the study author’s insistence that this is not racism, however. I’ve never quite understood why people attempt to put such distance between “holding racist attitudes” and “being a racist”. That smacks of denial to me, or at least an oversimplification, implying that the only true racism is intentional and that the only true racists are cackling goateed Voldemort wannabes. I understand that “racist” is an ugly label; I understand that people don’t like getting slapped with it. But there’s a speculative fiction writers’ concept that applies here: if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, calling it a “shmeerp” isn’t going to make people think it’s an alien or a fantasy creature. If you talk like a racist and think like a racist, and it causes you to withhold lifegiving treatment like a racist… well, hell, what else should we call you?)

The article goes on:

The best way to combat those impulses is by acknowledging them, specialists said, suggesting that medical personnel take a test to measure unconscious bias, such as one at

“The great advantage of being human, of having the privilege of awareness, of being able to recognize the stuff that is hidden, is that we can beat the bias,” said Mahzarin R. Banaji, a Harvard psychologist who helped design a widely used bias test.

So here’s a challenge, folks. Follow the link in the article, and take one of the Implicit Associations Tests. There are several for race/skin color, some for gender, some that touch on other “isms”. You don’t have to reveal the results to anyone else; this isn’t a contest to show off how __-ist you are or aren’t. But as the article suggests, one of the best ways to shake off the attitudes we’ve all absorbed from being immersed in biased societies is to become aware that you have these attitudes, and what they are. Then they’re easier to fight.


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