Harvard study finds implicit racial bias highest among white people

WASHINGTON – If there’s one thing we should all be able to agree on, it’s that all human beings belong to the same species, Homo sapiens.

But a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on Monday has found a yawning gap between what people claim to believe and what they actually hold true.

A team from Harvard and Tufts gathered data from more than 60,000 subjects who took part in 13 experiments that tested their implicit biases.

An overwhelming majority – over 90 per cent – explicitly stated that white people and non-white people are equally human.

But on an implicit measure, white US participants, as well as white participants from other countries, consistently associated the attribute “human” (as opposed to “animal”) with their own group more than other racial groups.

Conversely, Black, Asian and Hispanic participants showed no such bias, equally associating their own group and white people with “human.”

“The biggest takeaway for me is that we’re still grappling in a new form with sentiments that have been around for centuries,” first author Kirsten Morehouse, a PhD student at Harvard University, told AFP.

Throughout history, the dehumanisation of other races has been used as a pretext for unequal treatment, ranging from police brutality all the way to genocide.

Implicit Association Test

The research relied on the Implicit Association Test (IAT), a tool developed in the 1990s and now widely used in the field.

A computer-based measure, it tests the strength of associations between two concepts – for example Black and white people or gay and straight people – and two attributes like good or bad.

The idea is that easier pairings, as measured by faster key responses, are more strongly associated in the mind than difficult pairings, as measured by slower responses.

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