How racist are you? Is it a gun or a cell phone?

In Diversity Inc, there is an article about a pop psychology test from the University of Chicago. The test, self-administered on-line, runs through various photos of black and white men who are either holding a gun or something else. The test taker presses the “/ ” key to shoot the guy with the gun, or presses the “z” key to put the gun away.

The idea is for the test taker to see how racist he or she is in terms of who he or she thinks is more likely to be carrying a gun. I took the test and found out that I would have been shot dead several times over since my reaction time was so darned slow. I scored into the negative numbers. It didn’t matter if the shooter was black or white.

The test is pretty slick, even if, one is not prone to give much stock to this sort of study. The pondering about who is packing a gun reminds me of those discussions I had in college with friends of mine. We wondered what each of us would do if walking alone at night. If a man was coming, who crossed to the other side, and under what circumstances? Each of us admitted that our radar went up regardless of who the man was and how fast he was coming up behind us or towards us.

I don’t tend to think of people walking around with guns. I do notice the no guns stickers on signs since carrying a gun is legal in Ohio. As far as I can tell from my terrible score, when I look at a gun, I see a wallet or a cell phone. It doesn’t matter who is holding it.

Here is a link to the test to see how you do. Nicholas Kristof recently wrote an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times about this study where he expresses some dismay at his own results.

What I think is missing from the data is the background of the person taking the test. I wonder how much age, sex, and whether a person grew up in a city or in the country has any bearing on reactions? I also wonder if people who travel often are more likely to see a wallet? Or do our experiences have nothing to do with our trigger finger? I also wonder if, when we are traveling in a country where violent crime is rare, we react differently? I would guess yes.