This map shows what white Europeans associate with race – and it makes for uncomfortable reading

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The ConversationThis new map shows how easily white Europeans associate black faces with negative ideas. The ConversationSince 2002, hundreds of thousands of people around the world have logged onto a website run by Harvard University called Project Implicit and taken an “implicit association test” (IAT), a rapid-response task which measures how easily you can pair items from different categories.To create this new map, we used data from a version of the test which presents white or black faces and positive or negative words. The result shows how easily our minds automatically make the link between the categories – what psychologists call an “implicit racial attitude”.Each country on the map is coloured according to the average score of test takers from that country. Redder countries show higher average bias, bluer countries show lower average bias, as the scale on the top of the map shows.Like a similar map which had been made for US states, our map shows variation in the extent of racial bias – but all European countries are racially biased when comparing blacks versus whites.

In every country in Europe, people are slower to associate blackness with positive words such as “good” or “nice” and faster to associate blackness with negative concepts such as “bad” or “evil”. But they are quicker to make the link between blackness and negative concepts in the Czech Republic or Lithuania than they are in Slovenia, the UK or Ireland.

No country had an average score below zero, which would reflect positive associations with blackness. In fact, none had an average score that was even close to zero, which would reflect neither positive nor negative racial associations.

A screeshot from the online IAT test.
IAT, Project Implict

Implicit bias

Overall, we have scores for 288,076 white Europeans, collected between 2002 and 2015, with sample sizes for each country shown on the left-hand side.

Because of the design of the test it is very difficult to deliberately control your score. Many people, including those who sincerely hold non-racist or even anti-racist beliefs, demonstrate positive implicit bias on the test. The exact meaning of implicit attitudes, and the IAT, are controversial, but we believe they reflect the automatic associations we hold in our minds, associations that develop over years of immersion in the social world.

Although we, as individuals, may not hold racist beliefs, the ideas we associate with race may be constructed by a culture which describes people of different ethnicities in consistent ways, and ways which are consistently more or less positive. Looked at like this, the IAT – which at best is a weak measure of individual psychology – may be most useful if individuals’ scores are aggregated to provide a reflection on the collective social world we inhabit.

The results shown in this map give detail to what we already expected – that across Europe racial attitudes are not neutral. Blackness has negative associations for white Europeans, and there are some interesting patterns in how the strength of these negative associations varies across the continent.

North and west Europe, on average, have less strong anti-black associations, although they still have anti-black associations on average. As you move south and east the strength of negative associations tends to increase – but not everywhere. The Balkans look like an exception, compared to surrounding countries. Is this because of some quirk about how people in the Balkans heard about Project Implicit, or because their prejudices aren’t orientated around a white-black axis? For now, we can only speculate.

Open questions

When interpreting the map there are at least two important qualifications to bear in mind.

The first is that the scores only reflect racial attitudes in one dimension: pairing white/black with goodness/badness. Our feelings about ethnicity have many more dimensions which aren’t captured by this measure.

The second is that the data comes from Europeans who visit the the US Project Implicit website, which is in English. We can be certain that the sample reflects a subset of the European population which are more internet-savvy than is typical. They are probably also younger, and more cosmopolitan. These factors are likely to underweight the extent of implicit racism in each country, so that the true levels of implicit racism are probably higher than shown on this map.

This new map is possible because Project Implicit release their data via the Open Science Framework. This site allows scientists to share the raw materials and data from their experiments, allowing anyone to check their working, or re-analyse the data, as we have done here. I believe that open tools and publishing methods like these are necessary to make science better and more reliable.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Edit 4/5/17. The colour scale chosen for this map emphasises the differences between countries. While that’s most important for working out what drives IAT scores, the main take-away from the map is that all of Europe is considerably not neutral. That conclusion is supported by a continuous colour scale, as used in this version of the map here

12 thoughts on “This map shows what white Europeans associate with race – and it makes for uncomfortable reading”

  1. I wouldn’t read too much into these findings. Even blacks themselves show “implicit bias” against blacks so there is more going on here than meets the eye. As the article in the link below states, “The IAT, this research suggests, is a noisy, unreliable measure that correlates far too weakly with any real-world outcomes to be used to predict individuals’ behavior ”

  2. You try so hard to avoid overinterpreting what IAT scores mean by giving long and careful definitions (see paragraph starting “Although we, as individuals, may not hold racist beliefs… inhabit”) but then can’t resist calling reducing the effect to “implicit racism” in the penultimate paragraph and letting others do your talking by saying “what psychologists call an “implicit racial attitude”.” in an earlier paragraph. Is it or isn’t implicit racism/attitudes? I think assigning attitudes to implicit associations is an example of concept creep ( whereby the concept “attitude” has been changed to fit a research program/findings.
    Also, what kind of evidence would you need to refute the idea that this is a measure of racism? A priori I would have said that black people showing the effect challenges the validity of the IAT as a measure implicit racist attitudes.
    Moreover, it’s not just the race version of the IAT that has questionable validity. Consider the fact that overweight individuals “prefer” healthy food when their attitudes are measured by the IAT and depressed individuals show positive associations with the self. Both findings seem out of sync with reality but this doesn’t seem to be enough to stop the IAT.

    De Raedt, R., Schacht, R., Franck, E., & De Houwer, J. (2006). Self-esteem and depression revisited: Implicit positive self-esteem in depressed patients?. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 44(7), 1017-1028.

    Roefs, A., & Jansen, A. (2002). Implicit and explicit attitudes toward high-fat foods in obesity. Journal of abnormal psychology, 111(3), 517.

    1. I take your point – calling it implicit racism is probably unhelpful. I guess I was struggling to find a shorthand for “implicit associations between black faces and negative concepts”. Such associations can be due to racism, or drive racist behaviour, but my using the word racism probably obscures more than it clarifies in this context, so thank you for your comment highlighting this.

      As for attitudes vs associations, i think that is more debatable. Some definitions of attitude accord quite well with that the IAT measures.

      As for IAT validity – there’s a literature on that! Proponents of the IAT would argue that the disassociation of explicit attitudes and IAT measures is an argument *for*, not against, its validity (as an implicit measure)

      1. You said “Proponents of the IAT would argue that the disassociation of explicit attitudes and IAT measures is an argument *for*, not against, its validity (as an implicit measure)”. I wonder if they decided this *after* they saw the data? This is why predictive validity is important – it’s hard to refute the idea that IAT measures implicit attitudes because post hoc you can explain most patterns. For example, you could argue that black people (even supporters of Black Lives Matter) hold implicit racist attitudes because of the environment they have been raised in. These explanations have a just-so quality to them. So, predictive validity for the IAT? Not so good …

  3. “As for IAT validity – there’s a literature on that! Proponents of the IAT would argue that the disassociation of explicit attitudes and IAT measures is an argument *for*, not against, its validity (as an implicit measure)”

    That is a ridiculous stance. Unless it allows them to make more accurate predictions that have real-world consequences, it is not valid. I can make up any kind of meaningful-sounding test and claim that it is measuring something implicit.

    Also my understanding of the literature is that it by no means shows that the IAT, certainly as it is applied to race, is able to predict anything meaningful about behaviour.

  4. I’m not sure about this. They use a relatively sophisticated measure of racial attitudes but this is basically no more valid than the Daily Express’s polls of its readers showing a coming UKIP majority because it’s an incredibly self-selecting sample. Literally this is a sample of people who choose to go to a Harvard website about racial discrimination.

    1. Valid concern. We discuss the likely effect of this distorted sampling in the article. Question: does it mean differences between national samples are less likely to reflect general population differences?

      1. Yes absolutely. Without a good understanding of the representativeness of these samples, there’s no real way of knowing whether these differences are anywhere close.

        There’s no guarantee that the selection mechanism (into taking the test) is the same across countries and extremely good reasons to think it isn’t: internet penetration, levels of education and language to name a few.

        Even if these weren’t issues you have self-selection on the dependent variable (the test is framed around testing for racism), you therefore have a weird sample of people who want to understand their biases. Again there’s reason to believe that such people are representative of the population in general.

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