Hidden Prejudice

25 January 2008

Most of us would like to consider ourselves open minded, not prejudiced, and would certainly not consider ourselves to be homophobic. But recent research has shown that many of us may be harboring innate prejudices on an unconscious level.

A study by Project Implicit, an online laboratory developed in collaboration by researchers from Harvard University, the University of Virginia, and University of Washington, has revealed that 53 per cent of people show a moderate or strong automatic preference for straight people compared to gay people. The data is gathered by an online test in which participants respond to a range of stimuli. The speed at which you respond to particular stimuli allows the system to grade your personal bias which is displayed, along with current statistics, and the end of the test. Tests range over a wide range of issues from sexuality and religion to gender, race and weight.

Scientists, however, have found the results in relation to homophobia particularly interesting. While it has become unacceptable to express negative attitudes towards certain groups, for example on grounds of race or physical disability, studies have shown that societal attitudes towards the gay and lesbian community have changed relatively little in recent years. This is illustrated by the use of the term ‘gay’ as an insult, which is still commonly acceptable, in strong contrast to terms such as ‘paki’ or ‘spastic’. Before testing, subjects are asked to rate their own bias, and in this test these figures matched the results more closely than for most other topics, reflecting the acceptability of homophobic attitudes. So perhaps the bias is not just at an unconscious level in many cases.

But what should you do if you take the test and find out you have prejudices you were previously unaware of? One suggestion made by the researchers involved is that simply taking this test may offer part of the solution. By becoming aware of unconscious prejudices we can challenge our own attitudes and behaviour. The test can be found at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/