Journal article

Bias against Indigenous Australians: Implicit Association Test results for Australia

Race discrimination Aboriginal Australians Race relations Torres Strait Islanders Unconscious Bias Australia

Background:  Reported experiences of discrimination amongst Indigenous Australians may reflect an implicit bias inherent in Australian society. Such a bias may predispose vast swathes of the population towards considering Indigenous Australians through a negative lens, perhaps unconsciously. This paper explores previously unpublished data from the internationally renowned Implicit Association Test that attempts to measure the implicit biases that Australians may hold against Indigenous peoples.

Methods: The Implicit Association Test, which works on the basis that individuals implicitly, and systematically, associate certain traits or generalisations towards particular groups and other traits/generalisations towards other groups. Some of the associations are positive and some are negative. The test performs a two-way measure of bias comparing a participant’s responses towards an in-group and an out-group.

Results: Australian women on average display a bias towards Caucasian faces, but less than that of Australian men who participated in the test. The average result of Australian participants aged 14-25 is higher than the score of participants aged 26-60, implying that youths and younger Australians may hold slightly more biased views about Indigenous Australians. Participants over 60 years of age displayed higher IAT D Scores on average, reaching levels similar to 14-25 year olds. People who identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander were the only group to display a bias in favour of Indigenous faces on average.

Conclusion: The results in this dataset show that regardless of identity, Australian participants of the test held, on average, an implicit or unconscious bias against Indigenous Australians. Given the large sample size, the results are robust. One could argue that the results are generalisable, but noting that the score may under-report the extent of implicit bias in Australia. The results presented in this paper sheds some light as to why many respond negatively towards a proud Indigenous Australian like Adam Goodes, who by standing up for himself and Indigenous Australia, turned the mirror on the rest of Australia. It is hoped that awareness of the negative implicit associations that people unconsciously make may result in some taking pause. For how bias plays out in Australia – the way pejoratives are assigned to Indigenous and non-Indigenous – may have to do with how society conditions people to see, judge, validate and invalidate certain groups.

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