Mixed Salad of Thoughts

Friday, June 30, 2006

Blink II

This brings me to the second set of studies I found interesting: Priming....
Priming refers to when subtle triggers influence our behavior without our awareness of such changes. An example of this occurs in Spain where authorities introduced classical music on the subway and after doing so, watched vandalism and littering drastically decrease

Gladwell introduces this section by having you form 4 word sentences out of sets of 5 words at a time.

Something like this:

1-him was worried she was always

2-from our florida oranges temperature

3-ball the throw toss silently

4-shoes give replace old the

5-he observes occasionally people watches

6-be will slept lonely they

7-sky the seamless grey is

8-should now withdrawl forgetful we

9-us bingo sing play let

10-sunlight makes temperature wrinkle laziness

And he says that after completing this test that you would, leaving the testing area, walk down the hall slower than if you had not taken the test. This is because although your conscious mind is taking a language test, your unconscious mind picks up on the words "grey", "old", "bingo", "wrinkle" and "Florida" and relates it to old age. If there were too many of these words and you were aware you were being primed, it would not work.

In the book, Gladwell sites a study in which two groups of students are given a series of tests. One interspersed with words like "polite" and "patiently" "yield" "courteous" and the other with words like "aggressively" "rude" "infringe" "bold" "bother" "intrude". After taking the five minute scrambled sentence test the students were asked to walk down the hall to get the results of the test and their next assignment. However when they got to the office, someone would be blocking the doorway, engaged in conversation with the experimenter. They wanted to find out how long it would take for the primed subjects to interrupt and get their results. The experimenters expected a difference in milliseconds between the groups. The University approving the experiment had made them promise to stop the experiment after 10 minutes and they laughed at the restriction, as they could not believe that any student would actually wait that long. But when they ran the experiment they found the assertively primed students interrupted on average around the 5 minute mark, but the polite primed students...or at least 82% of them NEVER interrupted in the length of the 10 minute conversation.

Another series of tests, called the IAT or Implicit Association Test tests the power of unconscious association. It measures the amount of time used to categorize words & pictures into two different columns. It may start with pictures of people who are thin and those who are fat and ask you to hit either the left button for "thin" or the right button for "fat" while showing you photos of the faces. It may then give you a series of words like "glory" "nasty" "awful" "happy" and ask you to categorize them between "good" and "bad" and then it combines the two tests and asks you to put the displayed items in categories of either "Good or Thin" or "Bad or Fat". These tests show that it takes longer for people to associate some things than others. The results show that almost all American participants had a harder time pairing pictures of African Americans with "good" and Caucasians with "bad" than when paired the other way around. The results could be measured with tests pairing Gender & Career or Family and other unconscious biases. (see some of the test options here)

After the test is complete the data will tell if the subject has a "slight", "moderate" or "strong" preference, or "little to no preference"

Malcolm Gladwell said that he himself took the IAT and despite knowing how it worked and the outcome he wanted he found he still came out as moderately preferential towards whites over blacks. Being half black the outcome disturbed him. In fact, 50,000 African Americans have taken the test and a startling 50% of them have stronger preference towards whites than blacks.This is despite their conscious belief systems. Gladwell took the test four more times and still had the same results. Even if you take the test everyday, you probably will be unable to consciously overcome your results.

BUT...if you were to look over some pictures or read an article about Martin Luther King, or Colin Powell, or Nelson Mandela, and then took the Race IAT, you would find yourself more capable of associating Positive things with Black people... and your results would change. There was a student who took the test every single day just to collect the data, but one day he got a positive association with Blacks for the first time. Thinking it over, he realized that he had spent the morning watching the Olympic Track & Field competitions where black athletes could be said to have represented the honor and pride of the American competitors.

Although our unconscious biases and "gut feelings" are influenced by what we have experienced, and seen and read, and absorbed from our surroundings, we can effect those unconscious thoughts by WHAT we experience. It is not enough to simply believe in equality, or elimination of prejudice. If we want to overcome the unconscious bias that we have built up through experience and our surroundings, we need to change our experience and our surroundings. If we want to be able to treat a minority as our equal and eliminate the unconscious bias, we must surround ourselves with all the best of their culture and become accustomed to seeing them associated with good things.

So I think all these thoughts are interesting and started thinking about what implications this has in MY life, and how usable this information is to me...that's up next...

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