Web test measures level of unconscious prejudice against Arab Muslims

November 27, 2001

American attitudes about Arab Muslims may have changed or been colored as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. How much they changed is difficult to assess, but individuals have the opportunity to measure their own level of unconscious prejudice toward Arab Muslims by taking a test on the Internet developed by University of Washington and Yale University psychologists.

The anonymous test, which can be completed in about five minutes, can be accessed by clicking on the tolerance.org Web site of the Southern Poverty Law Center at http://www.tolerance.org, and then clicking on the link for "new hidden bias tests launched."

The new test is a spin-off of a psychological tool called the Implicit Association Test created by UW psychology professor Anthony Greenwald and developed in collaboration with Yale psychology professor Mahzarin Banaji and Brian Nosek, a Yale doctoral student.

The Arab Muslims test, like other IATs, measures unconscious or automatic associations that underlie prejudice. In taking the test, people are asked to identify a collection of names from around the world as either Arab Muslim or other. They also are asked to classify a list of words such as "love" or "hate" as good or bad. Then they are asked to respond to all of the names and words again, this time associating each with one of two categories, such as "Arab Muslim or good" or "Other People or bad." The test is scored on the basis of the speed with which it is done.

The new test is one of nine that can be found on the tolerance.org Web site. The other tests on the site, also developed by the UW-Yale team, rate people's unconscious prejudice against blacks and Asians and bias about gender, age and body image.

"Like all of the IATs, the new test is a way of acquiring self-knowledge," said Greenwald. "It offers people the opportunity to find out what's inside their heads that they didn't know exists. We encourage people to try the test as away of learning about themselves."

The Arab Muslims test was posted on the Web site shortly before Thanksgiving Day and the researchers have had the opportunity to roughly analyze data from the first 700 people who took it.

"Americans are more willing to be explicit about their negativity toward Arab Muslims than toward other groups," said Greenwald.

Thirty-three percent of the initial respondents indicated they had some degree of explicit or conscious reaction against Arab Muslims, while 62 percent said they were neutral and 5 percent indicated a positive reaction. The percentage explicitly against Arab Muslims was noticeably higher than that found for African Americans or elderly in other tests on the tolerance.org site.

The number of people who showed some degree of unconscious or automatic negative reaction (slight, moderate or strong) to Arab Muslims was 53 percent. Twenty-five percent were neutral and 22 percent showed some positive reaction. The level of negativity was not as strong as that recorded in racial and age tests. But the researchers cautioned that the tests should not be compared in this respect. The Arab Muslims test compared this group broadly to "other peoples" which the researchers said may not be as attractive a category as "young" with which "old" or "European American" with which "African Americans" were contrasted in the other tests.

"Our minds may be more contaminated than we recognize," said Banaji. "We present these tests not to be critical of those who show a bias, but rather to serve as a catalyst for asking questions about the discordance between the beliefs of fairness people consciously uphold and the biases in their assessments that unconsciously creep in.

"What is unique and important about this test, is that it gives us a sense of our bias at a time when civil liberties are directly under threat from the introduction of the U.S. Patriot Act," she added. "Given that the unconscionable acts of Sept. 11 appear to be performed by Arab Muslims, to what extent can we treat Arab Muslim (of American or other nationalities) fairly? To the extent that we harbor negative attitudes and such attitudes are not always consciously detectable, the question of fair treatment becomes ever more urgent."

The tolerance.org Web site also contains information about counteracting prejudice and hate, as well as coverage of the backlash against American Arabs, Muslim and Sikhs since the Sept. 11 attacks. It also has a tutorial on how to take the Arab Muslims and other IAT tests.
-end-
For more information, contact Greenwald at (206) 543-7227 or agg@u.washington.edu; Banaji at (617) 669-7240 or mahzarin.banaji@yale.edu; or Nosek at (617) 495-3847 or bnosek@wjh.harvard.edu.

University of Washington

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