Implicit Bias in Daily Perceptions and Legal Judgments

In today’s demonstration, we explored the audience’s positive and negative associations with blacks and whites. The demonstration is an adaptation of the Implicit Association Test (, a computer-based task designed to explore mental connections between various concepts. Participants were presented with a list of concepts (stereotypically black and white names, pleasant and unpleasant concepts) in a column down the middle of a screen along with the response categories (black/white or Pleasant/Unpleasant) along the left and right sides. When reading a word, participants were asked to categorize it by slapping the knee (left or right) that corresponds to the category displayed on the left or right side of the screen. Their task was to do this as fast as possible, correcting any mistakes before going forward, and raising their hand after completing the last word in the list. We then noted the amount of time for a critical mass of participants (approximately seventy-five percent) to complete each trial. In simple trials, either names or valenced words are displayed. In two critical trials, both names and valenced words were presented simultaneously in the middle of the screen. The trials differ based on the pairings of the response categories, and these trials tend to show a drastic difference in completion times. When participants were required to use the same hand to categorize black names and unpleasant words or white names and pleasant words, they tended to respond almost twice as quickly as when using the same hand to categorize black names and pleasant words or white names and unpleasant words. While there are individual differences among the respondents, the demonstration provided audible and visceral evidence of the trend. We then asked the audience to interrogate the methodological and cultural implications of the task, ultimately concluding that the test potentially reveals the fairly widespread implicit negative associations with blacks. With this working hypothesis, we next discussed the nature of racial bias and its implications for judgment in legal domains.