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Does the Implicit Association Test (IAT) Really Measure Racial Prejudice?

Probably Not.

Just observing what is evident in in-group discrimination tendencies every where in the world: Totally natural in our upbringing as social communities.
Recent research shines new light on the Implicit Association Test
The Implicit Association Test (IAT) was created by Anthony Greenwald and colleagues [1] and measures the strength of automatic associations (not exercising any control in our reaction or choices) people have in their minds.
Many people have taken the test online and have found that they are faster to associate positive words with names of white people rather than black people.
Mass fear has ensued that perhaps most of America really is racist. An even greater fear is that Americans are racist but don’t even know it. A situation that seems difficult to change.
Should people be this concerned about their results on the IAT, or is everyone worrying needlessly?

Recent research is shining new light on the IAT, offering an alternative explanation of what the IAT really measures. And the results have important real-world implications.

It’s well known that people are prejudiced against the “out-group”.

Perhaps the IAT-effect is just a result of the human capacity to associate positive stimuli more easily with their in-group, and negative stimuli more easily with their out-group. In other words, perhaps the IAT is tapping into a more general quirk of human nature rather than a specific race effect.

A few recent studies are consistent with this idea. In one study, researchers administered two different versions of the IAT [2]. In one version, the in-group was “French and Me” and the out-group was “North African”. Using this version, they found an IAT-effect. In another version, the two categories were “French” and “North-African and Me”. In this version, the effect completely disappeared!

This suggests the crucial factor was in-group/out-group membership, not nationality. In another study by the same researchers, they established the association with either the in-group or out-group before administering the IAT, and again found that when people associated themselves with the out-group there no longer was an IAT-effect.

In another study, a different team of researchers administered the IAT to three different groups of Americans: a Caucasian group, an African-American group, and a Latino group [3]. They found that the White-Black IAT-effect was largest for those in the Caucasian group, and smallest for those in the African-American group. Conversely, the White-Latino IAT-effect was largest for the Caucasian group and smallest for the Latino group.

For those in the Caucasian group, there was no difference in the White-Black IAT-effect and the White-Latino IAT-effect. Again, these findings suggest that the relevant factor is in-group/out-group, not race.

Finally, a Dutch team of researchers looked at the issue by replacing a racially charged out-group name (Moroccan) with a racially neutral out-group name (Finnish) [4]. (Note: I take the researchers at their word that in Amsterdam, “Finnish” is racially neutral whereas “Moroccan” is racially charged).

When Dutch names were contrasted with either Moroccan or Finnish names, they found the IAT-effect. More interestingly, when Moroccan names were contrasted with Finnish names, no IAT-effect was found! These results suggest that the racially-charged Moroccan names were processed in a similar way as the racially-neutral Finnish names.

What factors influenced processing of the out-groups? For both of the in-group/out-group comparisons (Dutch-Finnish and Dutch-Moroccan), they found that when positive concepts and the in-group (Dutch names) required the same button press people required less time to encode the stimuli or to map their decisions onto the response keys and were less cautious compared to when positive concepts and the out-groups (Finnish or Moroccan names) required the same button press. The same effects weren’t found in the Finnish-Moroccan comparison (where both were out-groups and therefore there was no in-group/out-group comparison).

The Dutch study [4] ruled out potential explanations of these results such as name familiarity (maybe people came to the study with more familiarity for certain names than others) and the context in which the Moroccan category was presented (perhaps presenting two out-groups in one IAT changes the context such that the out-groups are no longer viewed as out-groups).

Instead, they prefer an explanation put forward by another group of researchers [5] that it is more intuitive processing a positive word associated with an in-group than a positive-word associated with an out-group. Processing a positive word with an out-group requires a switch in mental set in order to retrieve the correct category membership and this takes up more time.

Taken together, these studies suggest that the IAT-effect is due to in-group/out-group membership and is not based on racial prejudice.

Racial Prejudice in the Real World

These results have important real-world implications. Racial prejudice is still a very serious problem across the world. It’s therefore important to really pinpoint what accounts for explicit prejudice, and make sure we are getting the cognitive process(es) just right.

Research has shown that those who show a strong IAT-effect are more likely to demonstrate overt racist behavior [6, 7]. The correlation is not that large though. As the Dutch researchers point out, caution should be used when making claims about the IAT’s ability to measure characteristics of a person that cause racist behaviors.

To me, the most interesting question is why some people with a strong IAT-effect show overt racism while others with a strong IAT-effect do not. The results of the Dutch study suggests that the IAT-effect in itself is not that revealing about racial preferences. People who show a strong IAT effect shouldn’t necessarily panic that they are unconscious racists.

Perhaps individual differences in the IAT really are just measuring differences in intelligence and the ability to exert cognitive control and that is the pertinent factor that is related to overt prejudice. Some recent brain research supports this idea.

One brain study used fMRI to examine participants while they were taking the IAT [8]. Brain areas relating to cognitive control and conflict resolution (the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate) were most active during conditions in which items from incongruent categories (e.g., insect + pleasant) shared a response key than when items from congruent categories (e.g., flower + pleasant) shared a key.

According to the researchers, their findings suggest that greater cognitive control was required in conditions in which it was necessary to overcome the strong tendency to map emotionally congruent items to the sameresponse key. Note that this account is very similar to the one mentioned earlier [5].

Further research has shown the role of inhibiting strong gut reactions in deteriming the IAT-efect. Researchers had White participants view faces of unfamiliar Black and White males [9]. Participants who showed greater activation in a region of the brain associated with fear and negative emotions (the amygdala) while viewing Black faces relative to White faces tended to score higher on two measures of unconscious race evaluation: the IAT and the eyeblink response.

In a second experiment, they did not find the same pattern of brain activation when the faces were familiar and the participants regarded the Black and White individuals positively.

In a related study, researchers had participants view Black and White faces either below the threshold of awareness (subliminally) or above the threshold of awareness (supraliminally) during fMRI [10]. When presented subliminally, the amygdala was more active for Black faces relative to White faces. This effect was reduced when the faces were presented supraliminally.

Interestingly, control regions in the prefrontal cortex showed greater activation for Black faces compared to White faces when presented supraliminally. Also, the IAT-effect was related to a greater difference in amygdala activation for Black faces relative to White faces, and activity in the prefrontal cortex predicted a reduction in amygdala activation from the subliminal to the supraliminal condition.

According to the researchers, this provides evidence for neural distinctions between automatic and controlled processing of social groups, suggesting that controlled processes may play a role in automatic evaluations.

Viewed in the light of the Dutch study mentioned above [4], these brain studies suggest that people with lower levels of cognitive control may be less likely to inhibit emotions about those in the out-group. The effect may not necessarily be related to race.


Racial discrimination is a real problem throughout the world. An important step toward eliminating racism is understanding how culture shapes our minds, and how our minds in turn shape the world. The research I just reviewed suggests that researchers may have overestimated the degree of people’s implicit racial prejudice.

This doesn’t mean we are in the clear. Throughout the course of evolution humans evolved the ability to quickly categorize those who are in the “in-group” and those who are in the “out-group”. This skill can be adaptive when processing a lot of information, but can also be harmful to society when it influences racist thoughts and behaviors.

Therefore, we should be very careful how different groups are portrayed in the media, schools, and society. The faster we can automatically associate people with our in-group, the less likely we will be to implicitly and overtly demonstrate racial prejudice toward them.

Of course, there is still a lot more to learn. Researchers should continue to investigate what the IAT is really measuring and why some people become racists and others do not. Such knowledge will hopefully bring us closer to eradicating racism.

How We Really Detect Lies


[1] Greenwald, A. G., McGhee, D. E., & Schwartz, J. L. K. (1998). Measuring individual differences in implicit cognition: The implicit association test. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1464–1480.

[2] Popa-Roch, M., & Delmas, F. (in press). Prejudice Implicit Association Test effects. Zeitschrift fu ̈r Psychology/Journal of Psychology.

[3] Blair, I. V., Judd, C. M., Havranek, E. P., & Steiner, J. F. (2010). Using community data to test the discriminant validity of ethnic/racial group IATs. Zeitschrift fu ̈r Psychologie/Journal of Psychology, 218, 36-43.

[4] van Ravenzwaaij, D., van der Maas, H.L.J., & Wagenmakers, E-J. (in press). Does the name-race implicit association test measure racial prejudice? Experimental Psychology.

[5] Klauer, K. C., Voss, A., Schmitz, F., & Teige-Mocigemba, S. (2007). Process components of the implicit association test: A diffusion–model analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 353–368.

[6] Greenwald, A. G., Poehlman, T. A., Uhlmann, E. L., & Banaji, M. R. (2009). Understanding and using the Implicit Association Test: III. Meta–analysis of predictive validity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1, 17–41.

[7] Nosek, B. A., Greenwald, A. G., & Banaji, M. R. (2007). The Implicit Association Test at age 7: A methodological and conceptual review. In J. A. Bargh (Ed.), Social psychology and the unconscious. the automaticity of higher mental processes (pp. 265–292). London: Psychology Press.

[8] Chee, M. W. L., Sriram, N., Soon, C. S., & Lee, K. M. (2000). Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the implicit association of concepts and attributes. Neuroreport: For Rapid Communication of Neuroscience Research, 11, 135-140.

[9] Phelps, E. A., O’Connor, K. J., Cunningham, W. A., Funayama, E. S., Gatenby, J. C., Gore, J. C., et al. (2000). Performance on indirect measures of race evaluation predicts amygdala activation. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 12, 729-738.

[10] Cunningham, W. A., Johnson, M. K., Raye, C. L., Gatenby, J. C., Gore, J. C., & Banaji, M. R. (2004). Separable neural components in the processing of black and white faces. Psychological Science, 15, 806-813.

Highly Creative People? What they do differently?

Creative thinking is a stable, defining characteristic in some personalities. It may also change based on situation and context.
Inspiration and ideas often arise seemingly out of nowhere and then fail to show up when we most need them, and creative thinking requires complex cognition, and may be distinct from the thinking process.
I lately watched a documentary on the “plasticity” or malleability of the brain, on how people born with half a brain acquire the capabilities of the missing brain. 
Carolyn posted this March 4, 2014                                  

18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently   

(A list of too many things that are not necessarily related to creativity?)                                                                         

Creativity works in mysterious and often paradoxical ways. 

Neuroscience paints a complicated picture of creativity. As scientists now understand it, creativity is far more complex than the right-left brain distinction would have us think (the theory being that left brain = rational and analytical, and the right brain = creative and emotional).

In fact, creativity is thought to involve a number of cognitive processes, neural pathways and emotions, and we still don’t have the full picture of how the imaginative mind works.

And psychologically speaking, creative personality types are difficult to pin down, largely because they’re complex, paradoxical and tend to avoid habit or routine. (I’m doubtful)

And it’s not just a stereotype of the “tortured artist” — artists really may be more complicated people.

Research has suggested that creativity involves the coming together of a multitude of traits, behaviors and social influences in a single person.

“It’s actually hard for creative people to know themselves because the creative self is more complex than the non-creative self,” Scott Barry Kaufman, a psychologist at New York University who has spent years researching creativity, told The Huffington Post. “The things that stand out the most are the paradoxes of the creative self … Imaginative people have messier minds.”

While there’s no “typical” creative type, there are some tell-tale characteristics and behaviors of highly creative people. Here are 18 things they do differently.

They daydream.

daydreaming child

Creative types know, despite what their third-grade teachers may have said, that daydreaming is anything but a waste of time. (I’m glad I have a specific category called Daydreaming projects, and wish I could get feedback)

According to Kaufman and psychologist Rebecca L. McMillan, who co-authored a paper titled “Ode To Positive Constructive Daydreaming,” mind-wandering can aid in the process of “creative incubation.” And of course, many of us know from experience that our best ideas come seemingly out of the blue when our minds are elsewhere.

Although daydreaming may seem mindless, a 2012 study suggested it could actually involve a highly engaged brain state — daydreaming can lead to sudden connections and insights because it’s related to our ability to recall information in the face of distractions. Neuroscientists have also found that daydreaming involves the same brain processes associated with imagination and creativity.

(Daydreaming projects are necessarily very detailed and produce the objections to moral and safety issues that the project may be lacking…)

They observe everything.

The world is a creative person’s oyster — they see possibilities everywhere and are constantly taking in information that becomes fodder for creative expression. As Henry James is widely quoted, a writer is someone on whom “nothing is lost.”

The writer Joan Didion kept a notebook with her at all times, and said that she wrote down observations about people and events as, ultimately, a way to better understand the complexities and contradictions of her own mind:

“However dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable ‘I,'” Didion wrote in her essay On Keeping A Notebook. “We are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its marker.”

They work the hours that work for them.

Many great artists have said that they do their best work either very early in the morning or late at night.

Vladimir Nabokov started writing immediately after he woke up at 6 or 7 a.m., and Frank Lloyd Wright made a practice of waking up at 3 or 4 a.m. and working for several hours before heading back to bed.

No matter when it is, individuals with high creative output will often figure out what time it is that their minds start firing up, and structure their days accordingly.

They take time for solitude.


“In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone,” wrote the American existential psychologist Rollo May.

Artists and creatives are often stereotyped as being loners, and while this may not actually be the case, solitude can be the key to producing their best work. For Kaufman, this links back to daydreaming — we need to give ourselves the time alone to simply allow our minds to wander.

“You need to get in touch with that inner monologue to be able to express it,” he says. “It’s hard to find that inner creative voice if you’re … not getting in touch with yourself and reflecting on yourself.”

They turn life’s obstacles around.

Many of the most iconic stories and songs of all time have been inspired by gut-wrenching pain and heartbreak — and the silver lining of these challenges is that they may have been the catalyst to create great art.

An emerging field of psychology called post-traumatic growth is suggesting that many people are able to use their hardships and early-life trauma for substantial creative growth. Specifically, researchers have found that trauma can help people to grow in the areas of interpersonal relationships, spirituality, appreciation of life, personal strength, and — most importantly for creativity — seeing new possibilities in life.

“A lot of people are able to use that as the fuel they need to come up with a different perspective on reality,” says Kaufman. “What’s happened is that their view of the world as a safe place, or as a certain type of place, has been shattered at some point in their life, causing them to go on the periphery and see things in a new, fresh light, and that’s very conducive to creativity.”

They seek out new experiences.

solo traveler

Creative people love to expose themselves to new experiences, sensations and states of mind — and this openness is a significant predictor of creative output.

Openness to experience is consistently the strongest predictor of creative achievement,” says Kaufman. “This consists of lots of different facets, but they’re all related to each other: Intellectual curiosity, thrill seeking, openness to your emotions, openness to fantasy. The thing that brings them all together is a drive for cognitive and behavioral exploration of the world, your inner world and your outer world.”

They “fail up.”


Resilience is practically a prerequisite for creative success, says Kaufman. Doing creative work is often described as a process of failing repeatedly until you find something that sticks, and creatives — at least the successful ones — learn not to take failure so personally.

“Creatives fail and the really good ones fail often,” Forbes contributor Steven Kotler wrote in a piece on Einstein’s creative genius.

They ask the big questions.

Creative people are insatiably curious — they generally opt to live the examined life, and even as they get older, maintain a sense of curiosity about life. Whether through intense conversation or solitary mind-wandering, creatives look at the world around them and want to know why, and how, it is the way it is.

They people-watch.

people watching

Observant by nature and curious about the lives of others, creative types often love to people-watch — and they may generate some of their best ideas from it.

“[Marcel] Proust spent almost his whole life people-watching, and he wrote down his observations, and it eventually came out in his books,” says Kaufman. “For a lot of writers, people-watching is very important … They’re keen observers of human nature.”

They take risks. 

Part of doing creative work is taking risks, and many creative types thrive off of taking risks in various aspects of their lives.

“There is a deep and meaningful connection between risk taking and creativity and it’s one that’s often overlooked,” contributor Steven Kotler wrote in Forbes. “Creativity is the act of making something from nothing. It requires making public those bets first placed by imagination. This is not a job for the timid. Time wasted, reputation tarnished, money not well spent — these are all by-products of creativity gone awry.

They view all of life as an opportunity for self-expression.

self expression

Nietzsche believed that one’s life and the world should be viewed as a work of art. Creative types may be more likely to see the world this way, and to constantly seek opportunities for self-expression in everyday life.

“Creative expression is self-expression,” says Kaufman. “Creativity is nothing more than an individual expression of your needs, desires and uniqueness.”

They follow their true passions.

Creative people tend to be intrinsically motivated — meaning that they’re motivated to act from some internal desire, rather than a desire for external reward or recognition.

Psychologists have shown that creative people are energized by challenging activities, a sign of intrinsic motivation, and the research suggests that simply thinking of intrinsic reasons to perform an activity may be enough to boost creativity.

“Eminent creators choose and become passionately involved in challenging, risky problems that provide a powerful sense of power from the ability to use their talents,” write M.A. Collins and T.M. Amabile in The Handbook of Creativity.

They get out of their own heads.

creative writing

Kaufman argues that another purpose of daydreaming is to help us to get out of our own limited perspective and explore other ways of thinking, which can be an important asset to creative work.

“Daydreaming has evolved to allow us to let go of the present,” says Kaufman. “The same brain network associated with daydreaming is the brain network associated with theory of mind — I like calling it the ‘imagination brain network’ — it allows you to imagine your future self, but it also allows you to imagine what someone else is thinking.”

Research has also suggested that inducing “psychological distance” — that is, taking another person’s perspective or thinking about a question as if it was unreal or unfamiliar — can boost creative thinking.

They lose track of the time.

Creative types may find that when they’re writing, dancing, painting or expressing themselves in another way, they get “in the zone,” or what’s known as a flow state, which can help them to create at their highest level.

Flow is a mental state when an individual transcends conscious thought to reach a heightened state of effortless concentration and calmness. When someone is in this state, they’re practically immune to any internal or external pressures and distractions that could hinder their performance.

You get into the flow state when you’re performing an activity you enjoy that you’re good at, but that also challenges you — as any good creative project does.

“[Creative people] have found the thing they love, but they’ve also built up the skill in it to be able to get into the flow state,” says Kaufman. “The flow state requires a match between your skill set and the task or activity you’re engaging in.”

They surround themselves with beauty.

Creatives tend to have excellent taste, and as a result, they enjoy being surrounded by beauty.

A study recently published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts showed that musicians — including orchestra musicians, music teachers, and soloists — exhibit a high sensitivity and responsiveness to artistic beauty.

They connect the dots.


If there’s one thing that distinguishes highly creative people from others, it’s the ability to see possibilities where other don’t — or, in other words, vision. Many great artists and writers have said that creativity is simply the ability to connect the dots that others might never think to connect.

In the words of Steve Jobs:

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”

They constantly shake things up.

Diversity of experience, more than anything else, is critical to creativity, says Kaufman. Creatives like to shake things up, experience new things, and avoid anything that makes life more monotonous or mundane.

“Creative people have more diversity of experiences, and habit is the killer of diversity of experience,” says Kaufman.

They make time for mindfulness.

Creative types understand the value of a clear and focused mind — because their work depends on it. Many artists, entrepreneurs, writers and other creative workers, such as David Lynch, have turned to meditation as a tool for tapping into their most creative state of mind.

And science backs up the idea that mindfulness really can boost your brain power in a number of ways.

A 2012 Dutch study suggested that certain meditation techniques can promote creative thinking. And mindfulness practices have been linked with improved memory and focus, better emotional well-being, reduced stress and anxiety, and improved mental clarity — all of which can lead to better creative thought.

Arianna Huffington and Mika Brzezinski are taking The Third Metric on a 3-city tour: NY, DC & LA.  Tickets are on sale now at




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