Implicit Bias – Race and Obesity

I took two Implicit Attitudes Tests (IATs) on the Project Implicit website  listed in the PFP resources for the Diversity and Inclusion section. The first was the Race (Black-White) IAT, the second was the Weight (Thin-Fat) IAT.

For an explanation of how these Implicit Attitude Tests work, details are provided here. Briefly, “the IAT measures the strength of associations between concepts (e.g., black people…) and evaluations (e.g., good, bad)…The main idea is that making a response is easier when closely related items share the same response key…We would say that one has an implicit preference for thin people relative to fat people if they are faster to categorize words when Thin People and Good share a response key and Fat People and Bad share a response key, relative to the reverse.”

My results from the Race (Black-White) IAT are a bit surprising. My data suggested that I have a “moderate automatic preference for African Americans compared to European Americans.” I’m surprised at this result since it is not a typical result. While I would like to believe I don’t hold a racial bias in either direction, I’m not so sure that my immediate reaction is to prefer African Americans over European Americans.

As I expected, my results for the Weight (Thin-Fat) IAT indicated that I have a “slight automatic preference for thin individuals compared to fat individuals”. I’m not saying I am proud of that bias or believe it is an appropriate one to hold, but it is in line with what is typically reported, even among nutrition professionals like myself.

I think what may have influenced my results is the order in which I received the two parts in each of these IATs.  “…The order in which the blocks are presented varies across participants, so some people will do the Fat People/Good, Thin People/Bad part first and other people will do the Fat People/Bad, Thin People/Good part first.” In the Race IAT I received the African American/Good and European American/Bad combination first. In the Weight IAT I received the “Thin People/Good and Fat People/Bad combination first. The creators of these implicit attitude tests note that the order may influence the overall results, but that the difference is likely to be small.

Regardless of the validity of my results it was an interesting exercise to participate in. I also appreciated that the site provided suggestions for altering an implicit preference that we do not want, as their research has shown that these preferences are malleable.

Their suggestions include:

1. Seek experiences that could reverse or undo the patterns that created the unwanted preference. (Examples include – avoid watching shows the promote negative stereotypes, or read materials that oppose your implicit preference.)

2. Work to remain alert to the existence of the unwanted implicit preference to make sure that it doesn’t influence your overt behavior.

3. Consciously plan actions that will compensate for your implicit preferences. (For example, if you have an implicit preference for young people you can try to be friendlier toward elderly people.)

Have you taken any of the Implicit Attitudes Tests? If so, were you surprised by your results? Why or why not?




A PhD Student at Virginia Tech. This blog was created as a class requirement for Contemporary Pedagogy - Spring 2013. 

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