Frequenty Asked Questions

What is an attitude?

An attitude is your evaluation of some concept (person, place, thing, or idea). An explicit attitude is the kind of attitude that you deliberately think about and report. For example, you could tell someone whether or not you like math. That is your explicit attitude. Implicit attitudes are positive and negative evaluations that occur outside of our conscious awareness and control. Even if you say that you like math (your explicit attitude), it is possible that you associate math with negativity without knowing it. In this case, we would say that your implicit attitude toward math is negative.

What are implicit and explicit stereotypes?

Stereotypes are the belief that most members of a group have some characteristic. Some examples of stereotypes are the belief that women are nurturing or the belief that police officers like donuts. An explicit stereotype is the kind that you deliberately think about and report. An implicit stereotype is one that occurs outside of conscious awareness and control. Even if you say that men and women are equally good at math, it is possible that you associate math with men without knowing it. In this case we would say that you have an implicit math-men stereotype.

How does the IAT measure implicit attitudes and stereotypes?

The IAT measures the strength of associations between concepts (e.g., black people, gay people) and evaluations (e.g., good, bad) or stereotypes (e.g., athletic, clumsy). The main idea is that making a response is easier when closely related items share the same response key. We would say that one has an implicit preference for straight people relative to gay people if they are faster to categorize words when Gay People and Bad share a response relative to when Gay People and Good share a response key. See link for more detail.

What does it mean that my IAT score is labeled 'slight', 'moderate', or 'strong'?

If you respond faster when flower pictures and pleasant words are paired on a single key than when insect pictures and pleasant words are paired on a single key, we would say that you have an implicit preference for flowers relative to insects. The labels slight, moderate and strong reflect the strength of the implicit preference – how much faster do you respond to flowers + pleasant versus insects + pleasant.

What does it mean that my feedback says that there were too many errors to determine a result?

The IAT requires a certain number of correct responses in order to get results. If you made too many errors while completing the test you will get the feedback that there were too many errors to determine a result. This is different from the result saying that you show little or no association between concepts.

What does it mean if I take the test more than once and get different results?

Although the IAT is a well-validated measure of implicit attitudes, no test is perfectly accurate and some variation is to be expected. We encourage you to take a test more than once. If you get similar feedback more than once, you can be more certain about the accuracy of your results. If you get somewhat dissimilar feedback two times you can simply average the results. It is unusual for someone to get very different feedback but, if you do, you can think of your test results as being inconclusive.

Could the result be a function of the order in which I did the two parts?

This is a very common question. The answer is yes, the order in which you take the test does have some influence on your overall results. However, the difference is very small. So if you first pair gay people + bad and then pair gay people + good, your results might be a just a tiny bit more negative than they would be if you had done the reverse pairing first. One way that we try to minimize this order effect is by giving more practice trials before the second pairing than we did before the first pairing. It is also important to know that each participant is randomly assigned to an order, so half of test-takers complete gay people + bad and then gay people + good, and the other half of test-takers get the opposite order.

Could the result be a function of handedness or hand-eye coordination?

There is no evidence that handedness influences IAT scores. When thinking about the influence of hand-eye coordination or cognitive ability, keep in mind how the test works. In a gay-straight IAT we measure how long it takes people to categorize items when gay + good share a response key versus when gay + bad share a response key. People who have better hand-eye coordination or higher cognitive ability might be generally faster to respond, but there is no reason to think that they would be faster in one category pairing versus the other. For this reason we do not think that hand-eye coordination will influence IAT scores.

Might my preference for one group over the other be due to differences in familiarity with the groups?

Research shows that IAT scores are not influenced by familiarity with the individual items to be categorized. Also, faces used in the IATs here should all be equally unfamiliar to everyone. That said, this is a tough question. Classic research in psychology shows that people tend to like things that they are familiar with. So, there may be a role for familiarity in liking of the categories. But also people avoid things that they don’t like, so it is possible that implicit bias is what leads to unfamiliarity.

Might my preference for one group over another be a simple ingroup preference?

A simple preference for the ingroup might partially explain implicit bias for white respondents. However, it is also more than that. There are plenty of tests on which people prefer one group or the other even when they do not belong to either group. For example, Asian participants tend to show an implicit preference for White people relative to Black people. In this sense the IAT might also reflect what is learned from a culture that does not regard Black people as highly as White people. It is also interesting to note that about half of Black participants show an implicit preference for White people relative to Black people… this would certainly not reflect an ingroup bias.

Do black participants show a preference for black over white on the race attitude IAT? Do gay participants show a preference for gay over straight? Do older participants show a preference for old over young?

Results from this website consistently show that members of stigmatized groups (Black people, gay people, older people) tend to have more positive implicit attitudes toward their groups than do people who are not in the group, but that there is still a moderate preference for the more socially valued group. So gay people tend to show an implicit preference for straight people relative to gay people, but it is not as strong as the implicit preference shown by straight people. We think that this is because stigmatized group members develop negative associations about their group from their cultural environments, but also have some positive associations because of their own group membership and that of close others.

If my IAT shows that I have an implicit preference for one group over another, does that mean I am prejudiced?

Social psychologists use the word prejudice to describe people who report and approve negative attitudes toward outgroups. Most people who show an implicit preference for one group (e.g., White people) over another (e.g., Black people) are not prejudiced by this definition. The IAT shows biases that are not endorsed and that may even be contradictory to what one consciously believes. So, no, we would not say that such people are prejudiced. It is important to know, however, that implicit biases can predict behavior. When we relax our active efforts to be egalitarian, our implicit biases can lead to discriminatory behavior, so it is critical to be mindful of this possibility if we want to avoid prejudice and discrimination.

Where do implicit attitudes come from? Is it me or my culture?

Implicit preferences for majority groups (e.g., White people) are common because of strong negative associations with Black people in American society. Black people are often portrayed negatively in culture and mass media, and there is a long history of racial discrimination in the United States. However, even if our attitudes come from our culture, they are still in our own minds and can influence our behavior if we are not vigilant to not let them.

What can I do about an implicit preference that I don’t want?

It is well-established that implicit preferences can affect behavior. But, there is not yet enough research to say for sure that implicit biases can be reduced, let alone eliminated. Therefore, we encourage people not to focus on strategies for reducing bias, but to focus instead on strategies that deny implicit biases the chance to operate. One such strategy is ensuring that implicit biases don’t leak out in the first place. To do that, you can “blind” yourself from learning a person’s gender, race, etc. when you’re making a decision about them (e.g., having their name removed from the top of a resume). If you only evaluate a person on the things that matter for a decision, then you can’t be swayed by demographic factors. Another strategy is to try to compensate for your implicit preferences. For example, if you have an implicit preference for young people you can try to be friendlier toward elderly people. Although it has not been well-studied, based on what we know about how biases form we also recommend that people consider what gets into their minds in the first place. This might mean avoiding television programs and movies that portray women and minority group members in negative or stereotypical ways.

How can I support the research done at Project Implicit?

You can make a donation here.