Americans have gotten less unconsciously biased against sexual orientation and race – but not weight, a new study from Harvard shows.
The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, analyzed data from the last 20 years of the website Project Implicit, which allows users to test themselves for implicit biases – biases they aren’t aware of. The study collected data from 4.4 million tests between 2005-16.
Attitudes towards sexual bias changed quickly, the study found. “The rates of explicit attitude change ranged from a rapid 49% decrease in explicit bias towards gay and lesbian individuals to a relatively slower 15% decrease in explicit bias towards overweight individuals,” says psychological scientist lead author Tessa Charlesworth of Harvard University, in a release.
Racial bias dropped as well: 17% for attitudes towards race and 15% for attitudes towards skin tone.
Unfortunately, bias against people who weigh more didn’t; neither did age or disability. Body weight bias is actually getting slightly worse – from around 2004 to 2010, body weight bias actually increased by 40%, WBUR reported.
“We can only speculate,” Charlesworth told WBUR. “We often talk about the ‘obesity epidemic,’ or about ‘the problem’ with obese individuals. Also, we typically think about body weight as something that people can control, and so we are more likely to make the moral judgment of, ‘Well, you should just change.'”
Nevertheless, it may not be like that forever, as the research shows that it appears that biases can change over time.
“This research is important because it shows that, contrary to previous assumptions that implicit attitudes were stable features of the mind or society, implicit attitudes appear, in fact, to be capable of long-term durable change,” says Charlesworth, in a release.
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