Natural for 12 years and I still failed an implicit association test

The Perception Institute recently emailed me to take an implicit association test for natural hair. I used to participate in implicit association tests for Harvard’s psychology department in college to earn pocket money, so I was familiar with the concept and interested in participating. According to Harvard’s Project Implicit, an IAT “measures attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or unable to report,” and the Perception Institute was interested in uncovering peoples’ beliefs about textured hair.

The test consists of pictures of textured and smooth hair styles flashed on the screen. At the same time, words with either an unpleasant or pleasant connotation are shown. The test goes through several rounds where you are given a scenario such as: all pleasant words should match a textured style and all negative words should match a smooth style. They also test the opposite scenario. The speed at which you are able to match the words to the images helps to uncover implicit biases (i.e., if you tend to associate smooth styles with pleasant words, you’ll be slower to match negative words with smooth styles).

While it’s not technically possible to “fail” an IAT, I felt as if I had failed because I was noticeably slower to associate textured styles with pleasant words and had to consciously think about it. I was much faster at associating pleasant words with smoother styles. I have been wearing my hair naturally for the last 12 years and loved the range of styles featured in the test from a 4c afro to a 3c wash and go to short beachy waves. The test made me think about the fact that even though I am huge advocate for natural hair, I likely still had some negative implicit biases of my own. Despite feeling as if I had failed, I was encouraged by the fact that the Perception Institute created the test in the first place and deem it an important topic to study. I think if I took this test 5 years ago, I probably would have done worse, and I am positive that if I were to take it 5 years from now, I’ll do much better as beautiful natural styles continue to pervade the media, our daily lives, and our unconscious.



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