The science of implicit bias has revealed tremendous insights about how humans tick.
I've personally worked on a few of these studies - including a 2019 meta-analysis on the predictive validity of the IAT (the Implicit Association Test). This is the measure used to assess implicit bias.
The IAT has its uses, and it has its abuses.
Researchers familiar with this measure have long cautioned against its use as a diagnostic tool, citing a lack of reliability as a primary concern.
While many agree there is a need for better training and bias-reducing policies among the nation's law enforcement, what exactly this should look like is the more difficult question.
One thing is clear: California's recent law that requires IAT-based screenings for police sits at odds with the advice of scientists and those most familiar with implicit bias. It also stands to frustrate the law enforcement community.
What Does Work
Instead of instituting the policy above, California's legislators might want to take a page out of neighboring Las Vegas's playbook. Their police department successfully implemented real steps last year to reduce negative police-citizen incidents.
"In an effort to cut down on high-adrenaline encounters—where police officers are more likely to rely on stereotypes—Goff urged the Las Vegas Police Department to bar officers involved in a foot pursuit from handling suspects when the chase ends. The policy led to a 23% drop in use of force at the department, an 11% reduction in officer injury and a simultaneous drop in racial disparities in use of force data" (Abrams, 2020).
Goff, referenced above, is psychologist Phillip Atiba Goff, PhD., of Yale University, who works with the Center for Policing Equity (CPE) to develop practical strategies that have helped departments across the US meet their goals for more equitable, evidence-based policing.
Read more about these promising developments in a recent release from the American Psychological Association (APA)'s Zara Abrams, who breaks down "What works to reduce police brutality" in an October 2020 issue of Monitor on Psychology.
See For Yourself - Try an IAT Online
You can take an Implicit Association Test (IAT) right now at the website Project Implicit.
This is a screenshot of an implicit association test (IAT) in progress on the website Project Implicit. The IAT utilizes response latency as an indicator of the strength of a mental association. Therefore, the test is based on the assumption that the strength of a mental association is manifest in one’s reaction time when making associative categorizations using keys on a keyboard. For instance, if Charlie is faster at categorizing European-American images with European-American labels when they’re paired with the word “Good”, than he is at categorizing African-American images with African-American labels when they’re paired with the word “Good”, then Charlie is said to have a more positive implicit attitude toward European than African-Americans.
Maybe you know someone prone to worrying, or have noticed your own anxious thoughts creeping in as the Covid pandemic unfurls. Does all that extra thinking make you better off or worse? Let's talk with an expert.
Some of us worry more than others. This varies from person to person, and most of us probably have an idea about where we fall along the spectrum. I can admit (and my family will gladly tell you) I touch down on the high end of this scale. Psychologists call it “neuroticism.”
“People who are high on this trait tend to feel negative emotions, like anxiety or sadness, more frequently and more strongly,” according to Sara Weston, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon. “They are also more likely to experience emotional instability, meaning they might jump from one emotion to the next more quickly or more often. Neuroticism's relationship to health can be quite complicated, especially in terms of understanding causality. For example, people who are high in neuroticism are more likely to receive diagnoses of hypertension, pulmonary disease, and cardiovascular disease (Weston, Hill, & Jackson, 2015). But is that because being high in neuroticism makes you less healthy? Or does being in worse health make you anxious or sad?”
“The truth is probably a bit of both,” she says. “For example, we know that people high in neuroticism are more likely to experience stress, which can in turn weaken our cardiovascular (Juster et al., 2015) and immune systems (Gouin, 2010). What's more, these same individuals are more likely to cope with stress with unhealthy habits, like smoking (Hakulinen et al., 2015). On the other hand, neuroticism is also associated with increased vigilance (Weston & Jackson, 2018). What this means is that people high in neuroticism report paying more attention to how their body feels and changes, suggesting this may help them catch signs of worse health sooner.”
Are there cases in which being neurotic might improve health?
Or is it fair to consider this a "negative" trait?
Well for one thing, highly neurotic individuals “are more likely to seek medical help and receive diagnoses than people with similar health conditions but with lower anxiety,” according to Dr. Weston. So if your neuroticism leads you to seek medical treatment when appropriate, that could be a good thing. However, neurotic individuals also tend to have worse health overall—that association is clear. “But we don't know how much of that is due to chronic stress and unhealthy coping strategies and how much is just a perception of worse health.” Dr. Weston and colleagues are actively investigating this "healthy neuroticism" hypothesis, but so far evidence to support it has been hard to come by.
In the face of the current crisis there is a lot to think about — from understanding how exactly the virus spreads, to following the important advice of washing hands, not touching your face, and avoiding public gatherings (to name a few). We also know that merely thinking about the problem doesn’t help — and that unproductive worrying will just weigh you down.
As for the neuroticism research, “It comes as a shock to approximately no person that our personalities can have an impact on our health,” Weston jokes … but “precisely identifying the ways in which our personalities have that impact can be quite difficult.” It sounds like some of the most exciting work is yet to come. As psychologists team up with health networks and other collaborators, and as modern forms of data access, collection, and analysis improve, our understanding of these questions continues to become clearer.
In the meantime, we should probably all give ourselves a little break. Chronic stress certainly isn't part of the solution (at least not by the most recent CDC guides: https://www.cdc.gov.)
Gouin, J. (2010). Chronic Stress, Immune Dysregulation, and Health American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine 5(6), 476-485. https://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1559827610395467
Hakulinen, C., Hintsanen, M., Munafò, M., Virtanen, M., Kivimäki, M., Batty, G., Jokela, M. (2015). Personality and smoking: individual-participant meta-analysis of nine cohort studies Addiction 110(11), 1844 1852. https://dx.doi.org/10.1111/add.13079
Juster, R., McEwen, B., Lupien, S. (2010). Allostatic load biomarkers of chronic stress and impact on health and cognition Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 35(1), 2-16. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2009.10.002
Larsen, R. (1992). Neuroticism and selective encoding and recall of symptoms: Evidence from a combined concurrent-retrospective study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 62(3), 480 488. https://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.110
Watson, D., Pennebaker, J. (1989). Health complaints, stress, and distress: Exploring the central role of negative affectivity. Psychological review 96(2), 234 254. https://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0033-295x.96.2.234
Weston, S., Hill, P., Jackson, J. (2015). Personality Traits Predict the Onset of Disease Social Psychological and Personality Science 6(3), 309-317. https://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1948550614553248
Weston, S., Jackson, J. (2018). The role of vigilance in the relationship between neuroticism and health: A registered report Journal of Research in Personality 73(), 27-34. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2017.10.005
If it helps, tell us how you've been feeling in the comments!