Henry A. Murry developed the Thematic Apperception Test during the 1930’s. You may have seen or read about it studying children’s social biases by showing them ambiguous pictures of different scenes and examining how they interpret what is going on in the pictures. Recently, I unknowingly participated in a real life form of this test by projecting my own sexism onto a news headline.
‘She’s getting violent’: Miami doctor suspended after attack on Uber driver was the title of an article published in the Washington Post which caught my eye. The thumbnail showed a women with her leg slightly bend, a rather bland expression on her face, and a male arm reaching into the side frame of the picture. The ambiguity of the photo forced me to interpret it using my own schemas.
Obviously it was a male doctor. He must have gotten suspended for attacking this poor female driver. I wonder if she is okay. Then I watched the video. The women was heavily intoxicated. Surely she was not driving in that state. So, she must have gotten violent with him and he got suspended for defending himself. Do a lot of doctors drive Uber cars? Don’t they make enough money? How would he have time for that?
You may not be as biased as me. It might be clear to you by now that the women was the intoxicated doctor and the driver was the male victim of assault. I’m embarrassed to say how long the video confused me. I was determined the doctor was a male. Before watching the video, based only on the thumbnail, I was sure the female was the victim, despite the title.
We have schemas about everything from certain situations, races, sexes, to professional positions. When I think about all the underlying biases that affect our every thought, my first instinct is to push these associations away; to try to make myself totally unbiased. But we cannot separate these associations from our experience of the world. By attaching certain characteristics to different symbols, we make the world easier to understand. At best, we can make ourselves more aware of our own biases by seeking them out rather than pushing them away.
This experience made me wonder what other biases I hold. So, I googled racial bias test and took the first one that popped up. The debriefing page at the end of the test, which felt more like a brain teaser than anything to do with race, proclaimed me morderately raciest! Well, it found that I had a moderate automatic preference for European American children over African American children.
Immediately I think the test is not accurate. Sure, the test was have been designed by Harvard, but it couldn’t be accurate because I don’t have racial preferences. Then I recall my shock at my own sexist interpretation of the Washington Post article. I would like to rectify these prejudices I hold about the world. How exactly, I’m not certain, but I think having the desire to become less biased and seeking out my own preconceptions is a good start.