Good? Bad? I dunno- yes?

Good? Bad? I dunno- yes?

I’m a sucker for information about how the brain works.

Granted, I’m no expert: I’m not a doctor or a neurologist or even an armchair psychologist- I’m am artist and a filmmaker so as a result I never get to play with cool toys like MRIs or other neuroscanners. As a result, most of my information comes from books and the internet. I have often wondered how I could go about participating in studies on the brain in order to figure out what is going on inside my own head (you would think that I would have this figured out since I’m already in here, but insight has not been forthcoming from geographical proximity alone).

So when a friend told me about the Implicit Association Tests being done online by Harvard University I was anxious to participate. The tests, which can be found at are simple online grouping tasks that involve sorting words and pictures into “good” and “bad” categories. For example, the first test that I took was about treatment methods for mental illnesses. The two categories involved were Medication and Therapy with several synonymous words for each. First I had to categorize “Therapy” words with “Good” words while categorizing “Medication” words with “Bad” words. Then I had to do the reverse. The real test was how fast I could do the categorizing and how many mistakes I made as a measure of what values had been ascribed to Therapy and Medication in my subconscious mind: not whether I explicitly thought Therapy worked better than Medication or vice versa.

I have only completed a handful of the tasks so far, but it was interesting to see how difficult some of them were to accomplish: there was a test that compared white and black faces, male and female, along with the “Good” and “Bad” associations that I found especially difficult to complete. Evidently I am more afraid of being racist than I am of performing a test empirically because I made a lot of mistakes on that one and probably skewed my own results. About halfway through the test I had to start thinking of the categories as “Good” and “Other” because I was so uncomfortable trying to label black faces as “Bad” (ironically I had no problem thinking of white faces as “Bad”).

Anyway, it made me wonder how important implicit associations are in the face of our explicit choices? If we deliberately decide upon a point of view does that override our implicit associations or will they always be at war with one another? Do we make explicit value judgements to build upon our implicit associations or to compensate for them? Perhaps the good folks at Harvard will someday be able to tell me.

~ by Gwydhar Gebien on June 12, 2013.

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