Letters from the June 17, 2006, issue of Science News

Cuts on the bias

After taking some of the bias tests, I am very skeptical (“The Bias Finders: A test of unconscious attitudes polarizes psychologists,” SN: 4/22/06, p. 250). Since the major tool is speed of reaction, and since my eyes are not too good now, the results were very curious and probably totally unreliable: Though a lifelong, unprejudiced heterosexual, the test has me biased in favor of gays; as a lifelong champion of color blindness regarding race, I am indicated as being biased against blacks. Sorry, I don’t buy either of these results.

Tibor R. Machan
Silverado, Calif.

I took the IAT racial-prejudice test several months ago. The reversal between the first half of the test (whites good) and the second half (blacks good) also reverses the presentation of the choices to be clicked. It was a bit like buying a new laptop and having to get used to the shift key in a different position. I could feel myself slowing down. Obviously, I wound up with a score of “biased,” although nothing else in my life supports that conclusion. I find it interesting that about half of the blacks taking the test also have a “pro-white bias.” Perhaps, in addition to bias, the test measures the speed with which a person learns or unlearns a given multiple-choice pattern. It would have been more confidence inspiring if the researchers had controlled for that factor before using the test to draw broad conclusions about racial attitudes.

Mia Molvray
Port Hueneme, Calif.

During my years of world travel, I’ve noticed a color bias everywhere. Black is associated with death, impurity, and the unknown; white with purity, cleanliness, life, and spirituality. The two colors, by themselves, evoke a bias in all people. If researchers say they have taken this into account, I’d love to know how.

Carl Abbott
Santa Cruz, Calif.

Since xenophobia and ethnocentrism are traits in all known human populations, it is probable that these traits are in part hardwired, rather than totally learned. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the IAT finds these traits even among those who profess to be free of ethnic and racial prejudice.

David M. Gilliam
Derwood, Md.

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