Using VR to reduce unconscious bias

VR IAT gif

The Implicit Association Test (IAT) is a well known assessment in the field of social psychology intended to detect the strength of a person’s subconscious associations, commonly used to measure implicit racial bias. In the test participants are asked to quickly pair • Dark faces with negative words + light faces with positive words and • Dark faces with positive words + light faces with negative words. If the first group is completed faster than the second, that indicates an implicit bias. Implicit bias does not mean that the person is prejudiced but reflects implicit bias (which likely to be socially determined)!

Implicit bias screenshot explation
Screenshot from Lesson 5 in the Implicit Bias Video Series from BruinX, the R&D unit within UCLA’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

After trying the test for myself and, as I suspected, got the results of being biased towards white (I am a white and I live in Europe), I started thinking about whether VR could be used to affect the results of the test. I knew from past research on the topic that VR can be used to tackle racism, however I wanted to figure out if there was a way to directly do this in an IAT.

Hand tracking

VR IAT app screenshot
Screenshot of the VR IAT app running on the Oculus Quest

The Oculus Quest recently added hand tracking support, so this provided me with a simple and effective way to test whether having a different skin color in VR has an effect on the results of the original Race IAT. After some trial and error, I came up with an algorithm for calculating the bias that closely matches the Project Implicit IAT. I then added different types of hands, white, black, male and female and started taking the test for myself.

Real effects

To my surprise, having dark skin hands has a considerable effect on the results, consistently reducing the time to sort the black-good category by a few seconds. It would be really interesting to see this tested with a wider population and if proven effective to expand it to other types of biases like gender bias.

If you have an Oculus Quest and want to try it for yourself, head over to and download the app. You should take the test at least twice, once with light skin color hands and once with dark skin color hands. The test looks at the speed and accuracy of your answers, therefore it is important to focus and complete the test as quickly as possible while also being accurate.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s