Ethical Considerations

Because the IAT sometimes reveals troubling aspects of human nature, it poses the possibility of causing harm. If you are considering using the IAT in your research, your research plan should take this possibility into account. Project Implicit urges careful consideration of the costs associated with misuse. The IAT has potential for use beyond the laboratory; however, there are problems with using it outside of the safeguards of a research institution.

First, people may use the IAT to make decisions about themselves (e.g., what should I buy, where should I go to school?). Second, people may use it to make decisions about others (e.g., does this potential job candidate have racial bias?). Third, people may use it to investigate others’ likes and dislikes (e.g., which advertisement increases liking for my product).

On the surface these might seem like acceptable uses; however, we assert that the IAT should not be used in any such ways. At this stage in its development it is preferable to use the IAT mainly as an educational tool, to develop awareness of implicit preferences and stereotypes. For example, using the IAT to choose jurors is not ethical; however, it might be appropriate to use the IAT to teach jurors about the possibility of unintended bias. Using the IAT to make significant decisions about oneself or others could lead to undesired and unjustified consequences.