Victoria woman Tessa Charlesworth published a study on implicit and explicit bias. (Facebook)

B.C. woman’s research says we’re less biased on race, more biased on weight

Victoria woman’s research shows how attitudes have shifted over time

A Victoria woman’s research reveals that bias against overweight people has increased, while negative attitudes towards race and sexuality has gone down.

Victoria local and Esquimalt High School grad Tessa Charlesworth went from one coast to another to study at Harvard University where, as a graduate student in the department of psychology, she and colleague Mahzarin Banaji used data from a long-running internet test to make incredible findings in the field of prejudice and bias.

The Implicit Association Test (IAT) has been running since 2004 and reveals both the “implicit” (internal bias) and “explicit” (conscious bias) of respondents – in other words, the outward and inward levels of prejudice people have against others based on skin tone, race, age, disability and body weight.

Implicit bias tests measured the length of time respondents took to press a specific key to categorize pairs of words in relation to social groups and attributes. For example – the word “good” would be assigned to either an image of a black or white person and researchers would compare how long it took for participants to respond based on the assigned category.

Participants also self-reported their associations – revealing their “explicit” or conscious biases.

RELATED: Trudeau says anti-black racism exists in Canada

RELATED: Racism runs wild online after truck driver damages B.C. bridge

RELATED: Yelling vulgar slur at reporter not a crime says judge

Charlesworth collected over four million results from 2004 to 2016 and found that outwardly, self-reported bias towards all social groups and abilities had shifted towards neutral and inwardly, people’s bias towards race, skin tone and sexuality had also decreased.

But notably, bias towards elderly people and disabled people was basically the same, and bias towards overweight people had actually worsened – a contrast from the participant’s conscious responses.

Charlesworth has a few ideas about what the results might mean.

She speculated the ongoing social push against the obesity epidemic could have something to do with body weight perceptions.

“It paints overweight individuals in a really negative light,” she said. “It paints them as a public health crisis.”

But Charlesworth also noted that body weight is the only data set that participants perceived as controllable.

“That assigns a lot of responsibility to people who are overweight to change themselves – rather than the person who is perceiving the overweight individual to change their mind,” she said.

When it comes to areas where bias decreased, Charlesworth points to social priorities. She and her colleague actually looked at Google searches and found that there were far more conversations happening around homophobia and racism than ageism, ableism or sizeism.

“So we think that the more we’re talking about these biases and social problems, the more opportunities we have to make change,” she concluded. “It’s very simple: the more times we try to change our attitudes, the more likely we are to succeed in changing them.”

Charlesworth said she hopes to have career in academics – preferably back on the West Coast.

Charlesworth and Banaji’s study was published in Psychological Science.

RELATED: 10 B.C. cities to pilot new program against childhood obesity

RELATED: Viral video of B.C. woman’s rant make it hard to deny racism, advocate says

RELATED: Girls face sexism as early as 10 years old: Girl Guides poll



nina.grossman@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Conflict expert explains how to talk to people who aren’t social distancing

Approach the conversation with empathy says conflict expert

COVID-19: Managing your mental health from isolation

Ministry of Mental Health, Addictions recommends numerous strategies for self-care during pandemic

Saanich moves forward with summer camp registration despite COVID-19

District to give full refunds if camps are cancelled

Sunday morning fire damages Victoria gas station

The fire on Fairfield Road caused $75,000 in estimated damages to tires and automotive equipment

‘Better days will return’: Queen Elizabeth delivers message amid COVID-19 pandemic

The Queen said crisis reminds her of her first address during World War II in 1940

Emergency aid portal opens Monday, cash could be in bank accounts by end of week: Trudeau

Emergency benefit will provide $2,000 a month for those who have lost their income due to COVID-19

Education, not enforcement: B.C. bylaw officers keeping a watch on physical distancing

A kind word, it turns out, has usually been all people need to hear

COVID-19: Hospitals remain safe for childbirth, say Vancouver Island care providers

North Island Hospital has been asked to share its perinatal COVID-19 response plan

Canadian cadets to mark 103rd anniversary of Vimy Ridge April 9 virtually

Idea of Captain Billie Sheridan in Williams Lake, B.C. who wondered what to do in times of COVID-19

B.C. VIEWS: Pandemic shows need for adequate care home staffing

Seniors in B.C. care homes face challenging times

QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Take this test and find out how well you know Canada’s most popular winter sport

Researchers look at humidity as a weapon in the fight against airborne viruses

Regular hand washing, physical distancing and PPE for health care workers remains best line of defense

Most Read