Implicit Association Test

Professor Mahzarin Banaji of Harvard University on detecting the strength of associations, indirect measures of cognition, and how to find the truth about our mind

videos | January 22, 2014

How to measure the contents of our minds? What is the way to indicate implicit bias in one’s mind? Do our thoughts really represent what we think? These and other questions are answered by Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics at Harvard University Mahzarin Banaji.

The Implicit Association Test, that has been around for about 15 years, has become a quite popular measure that many psychologists are using in their research. Psychology has its origins in Germany. German psychologists for the very first time began to measure the mind. And that was in the late 1800s. The way they did that is by asking people questions. They would say: “Tell me, how does this color look to you? Describe the red here.” They had people introspect, they had people reflect on a prior episode and report back, what is their memory, what is their perception, how do they reason about it using language.

In the last 30 years or so there’s been a slow

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shift towards trying to find better measures, sometimes measures that do not ask the person to say anything, but instead to respond very quickly or to do something by putting two things together. These new measures we’ll call ‘indirect measures’ of cognition. We will not ask you how do you feel about something, we will say to you, “I’ll flash a word on the screen, and you have to tell me very quickly what is the word, second word, is it a word or not a word.” And now we can measure and see that the first word that you saw influences how you respond to the second word. These indirect measures have been around for a while.

The Implicit Association Test simply measures the strength of association between an attribute, such as good and bad, tall and short, strong and weak, and many groups that we can imagine: elderly and young, male and female, black and white, gay and straight, whatever it is you’re interested in. That’s what the test does. You can go visit the test, and take tests like this yourself. You can just go to, and there are many tests, and the tests are free and available to the public.

Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics, Department of Psychology, Harvard University
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