A Self Reflective Lens

As we try to look objectively on the world, it seems like the last thing you would need was a self-reflective lens! The focus looks like it is in the wrong direction!

But the irony is that unless we understand ourselves, we cannot be objective looking at the world outside ourselves. Developed by a team of scientists, the Implicit Association Tests give us a chance to look at what unconscious biases we each have. By comparing how readily we associate good and bad adjectives with images and words associated with differences, we can discover whether we have an unconscious bias in one way or another. (Spoiler alert here: if you are a human being, you will find you have many unconscious biases!)

You may have guessed that I am leading up to the IAT tests for preferences between straight and gay. But you may be surprised to discover that many gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people often discover they have a preference for straight over gay. Does that make any sense?

It does if the cultural values we are exposed to in a consistent way from early childhood on reflect the idea that gay is bad and straight is good. Much of US culture grew from European immigrants seeking a place to practice their religion freely- and expecting their neighbors to share their beliefs. The religious roots of US culture mean that most of us have unconscious bias against LGBTQI people. And we know that our unconscious biases are more powerful in determining how we will treat patients or clients far more than our stated stance of treating all people the same.

I would like to invite you to take the unconscious bias test to see what your results are… on straight-gay and any other dimension you find intriguing it is informative in getting to know ourselves better. But I also want to challenge you to be sure to reach out to LGBTQI patients or clients as they come across your path over the coming year… then take the IAT again- see if these people start to change you and your implicit associations!

Google Harvard & IAT & sexual orientation-write your results someplace private and take it again a year from now- maybe you can share a blog with us then!

By the way, the scientists running the IAT tests have found that overall preference for straight over gay has decreased significantly from 2006 through 2013- more for women than men, but it shows our biases can be decreased by exposure to new media perhaps or even more powerfully by real human beings- family, friends, colleagues, and even patients/clients.


175p CallahanEdward J. Callahan, PhD
University of California, Davis Health System
Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Personnel
Professor of Family and Community Medicine
Chair, Vice Chancellor’s LGBTQI Advisory Committeee