Having read Blink, do you buy the argument that we are completely oblivious to our unconsciously motivated behavior (like the disturbing IAT results that show 80% of test-takers have prowhite associations?) Is this just a convenient excuse to justify our biases?
I definitely do “buy” the argument that we can have unconscious biases of which we are completely unaware. I do not think that we just say this to cover up for the fact that we are truly and knowingly prejudiced against various groups. Instead, I would argue that it would be very strange if we did not have unconscious biases that have been created by our socialization.
As we grow up, we are constantly exposed to the value judgments that people in our society make. For example, we are exposed to information about what kind of people our society judges to be attractive. We see examples of attractive people (as defined by society) in ads, in TV shows, in movies, and in other places. Every time we see such things, we are surely influenced to some extent. Because we are influenced by all these messages, we also tend to end up thinking about beauty in the same way that other people in our society do. This is why different societies tend to have different standards of beauty to some degree. When we have assimilated these standards, we do not have to think consciously about them. We simply look at a person and we think that they are (or are not) good-looking. I would argue that this is not a conscious bias. Instead, it is the result of our having been socialized for years to find certain kinds of people attractive.
The same thing applies when we talk about things like race. As Gladwell discusses in Chapter 3 of Blink, even a person who is (like Gladwell himself) half-black can associate African Americans and blackness with negative things. This comes about because of things like how often we are presented with images of African Americans as criminals and how we use the word “black” negatively. We imbibe these images and unconsciously take them to heart. I would argue that the fact that even people from a given group can feel negatively towards their own group does much to prove that we are not using the idea of unconscious motivations as a cover-up for our conscious prejudices.