An attitude is your evaluation of some concept (e.g., 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. Implicit attitudes are positive and negative evaluations that are much less accessible to our conscious awareness and/or control. Even if you say that you like math (your explicit attitude), it is possible that you associate math with negativity without being actively aware of it. In this case, we would say that your implicit attitude toward math is negative.
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 is relatively inaccessible to conscious awareness and/or control. Even if you say that men and women are equally good at math, it is possible that you associate math more strongly with men without being actively aware of it. In this case we would say that you have an implicit math + men stereotype.
The Implicit Association Test (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 complete the task when Straight People + Good / Gay People + Bad are paired together compared to when Gay People + Good / Straight People + Bad are paired together.
You would receive feedback saying you have an implicit preference for flowers compared to insects if you respond faster when Flowers + Good / Insects + Bad are paired together compared to when Insects + Good / Flowers + Bad are paired together. The labels ‘slight’, ‘moderate’ and ‘strong’ reflect the strength of the implicit preference based on how much faster you respond to Flowers + Good / Insects + Bad versus Insects + Good / Flowers + Bad.
The IAT requires a certain number of correct responses in order to get results. If you made too many errors while completing the test, then 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.
Although the IAT is a well-validated measure, no test is perfectly accurate. While your results are unlikely to change dramatically from test to test, some variation is to be expected – just like your blood pressure might be different based on where it’s measured (e.g., at home versus the doctor’s office) or your current state (e.g., in the middle of a stressful phone call versus after meditating).
Your IAT results may be influenced by factors related to the test (e.g., the category labels or images/words used to represent the categories on the IAT) or factors related to the person taking the test (e.g., how tired you are, what you are thinking about).
Yes, the order in which you take the test does have some influence on your overall results. However, the difference is small. So if you first pair Gay People + Bad / Straight People + Good and then pair Gay People + Good / Straight People + Bad, your results might be 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 / Straight People + Good and then Gay People + Good / Straight People + Bad, and the other half of test-takers get the opposite order.
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 People + Good / Straight people + Bad are paired together versus when Straight People + Good / Gay people + Bad are paired together. 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.
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.
A simple preference for the ingroup might partially explain implicit bias for White respondents, the majority of whom show an implicit preference for White people. However, it is also more than that. For example, about a third of Black participants show an implicit preference for White people relative to Black people which can’t be explained as an ingroup bias. In addition, 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.
Results from this website consistently show that members of stigmatized groups (e.g., 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.
Many people use the word ‘prejudice’ to describe people who report negative attitudes toward social groups. By this definition, most people who show an implicit preference for one group (e.g., White people) over another (e.g., Black people) are not prejudiced. The IAT shows biases that are not necessarily endorsed and that may even be contradictory to what one consciously believes. So, no, we would not say that such people are prejudiced.
While a single IAT is unlikely to be a good predictor of a single person’s behavior at a single time point, across many people the IAT does predict behavior in areas such as discrimination in hiring and promotion, medical treatment, and decisions related to criminal justice.
However, that’s not to say there’s an exact relationship between implicit bias and behavior. For example, someone with a strong pro-White implicit preference might sometimes choose to hire a Black employee, and someone with no pro-White implicit preference might sometimes discriminate against a Black person in favor of a less qualified White person.
The link between implicit bias and behavior is fairly small on average but can vary quite greatly. The relationship between implicit bias and behavior is larger in some domains (e.g., implicit political preferences) and smaller in others (e.g., implicit biases about alcohol & drug use). However, even small effects are can be important! Small effects can build into big differences at both the societal level (across lots of different people making decisions) and at the individual level (across the many decisions that one person makes).
Implicit preferences for majority groups (e.g., White people) are likely common because of strong negative associations with Black people in American society. There is a long history of racial discrimination in the United States, and Black people are often portrayed negatively in culture and mass media. However, even if our attitudes and beliefs come from our culture, they are still in our own minds. Subtle psychological biases of all stripes can influence our behavior if we are not vigilant to their influence.
We encourage people to focus on strategies that deny implicit biases the chance to operate. One 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 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 outside of the lab, based on what we know about how implicit biases form we also recommend that people consider what gets into their minds in the first place. For example, this could mean going out of your way to watch television programs and movies that portray women and minority group members in positive or counter-stereotypical ways.
We make the anonymous data collected on the Project Implicit Demonstration website publicly available so that scientists journalists, educators, and others can use it to better understand attitudes and stereotypes. We also maintain a list of published research papers that utilize data from the Project Implicit Demonstration website.
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