About the Site
How does the test work?
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1. Why was this web site created?
Answer: to educate - to reduce stigma - to facilitate research
To educate: We hope this web site will provide visitors with an educational and enriching experience. Discussing health issues can be very sensitive, so we wanted to provide a forum that would draw from the latest psychological science to raise awareness about the role of implicit associations in mental and physical health issues. Many forms of mental illness are characterized by ways of responding that seem to happen very rapidly and can feel uncontrollable, so learning about implicit associations (which capture fast and relatively uncontrollable ways of processing information), may teach us a lot about why mental illnesses develop, what maintains them, and how we can best reduce the suffering associated with mental illness.
To reduce stigma: We also opened the web site to help reduce the stigma associated with mental and physical illness and its treatment. All visitors are provided with information about how and where to access mental health services and with tips about physical health. We hope that if people feel concerned about their physical, mental, or emotional health, that this site can provide them with links to access the professional services they need. (Note, we do not provide personalized diagnostic or treatment advice at this site.) Mental health treatments can be very effective, so we want to educate people about the science of clinical psychology and the importance of accessing treatment approaches that are supported by research showing they work. Moreover, we want to raise awareness about how common it is for people to struggle with mental illness, and to reduce the tendency for people to hold negative attitudes toward mentally ill individuals (e.g., exaggerated beliefs that mentally ill people are dangerous).
To facilitate research: We hope to better characterize implicit health associations for common mental illnesses (e.g., depression, anxiety), mental health issues (e.g., self-esteem, evaluations of treatments), and physical health decisions (e.g., exercising, eating). By collecting data from many people, we hope to learn about how widespread these associations are, and what factors influence the strength of implicit health associations (e.g., differences based on age, gender, race/ethnicity, etc.).
2. How does the IAT measure implicit associations?
Answer: The IAT asks you to pair two concepts (e.g., anxious and me, or calm and me). The more closely associated the two concepts are, the easier it is to respond to them as a single unit. So, if calm and me are strongly associated, it should be easier to respond faster when you are asked to give the same response (i.e. the 'E' or 'I' key) when classifying items in these two concept categories. If anxious and me are not so strongly associated, it should be harder to respond fast when they are paired. This gives a measure of how strongly associated the two types of concepts are. The more associated, the more rapidly you should be able to respond. The IAT is one method for measuring implicit or automatic attitudes and is featured on this website. There are other methods, using different procedures, which have been investigated in laboratory studies.
3. Could the result be a function of the order in which I did the two parts? I had to group one category together with pleasant words first. I then found it difficult when I later had to group the other category with pleasant words.
Answer: The order in which the test parts are administered does make a difference to the overall result in some tests. However, the difference is small and recent changes to the test have sharply reduced the influence of order. Because of this order effect, the orders used for IATs presented on this website are assigned at random. For any data we present, we are careful to be sure that half the test-takers got the part A then B order and the other half got the part B then A order. With the revised task design, the order has only a minimal influence on task performance. If you want to check whether the order made a difference for you, you can take the test again and complete it if you get assigned to the reverse order. If you do take the test twice in different orders and get different outcomes, the best estimate of your result is intermediate between the two.
4. What does it mean if I get a test result that I don't believe describes me or, if I take the same test twice, I get different results each time?
Answer: You may be giving the test more credit than it deserves! These tests are not perfectly accurate by any definition of accuracy. Normally, outcomes will change at least slightly from one time to another. You may discover this if you repeat any of the tests. We encourage repeating any test for which the outcome surprises you. If the outcome is the same, the result is definitely more trustworthy than is the first result alone. If the outcome varies, it is best to average the different results. However, if the outcome varies widely from one time to another (something that is unusual) we suggest that you just regard the set of results as 'inconclusive'. Besides normal variation in the reliability of assessment, the IAT is also known to be malleable based on differences in the social setting and recent experience. These factors will influence the consistency of measurement across occasions.
5. The red X s forced me to give responses I did not consider proper. Does that mean the test is no good for me?
Answer: The instructions page for each IAT lists the words, names, and/or types of pictures that appear in that test. The page also indicates the category to which each of those words belongs (For example, the page might say "good words = wonderful, beautiful, happy, joy, smile.") However, it is sometimes difficult to clearly view the pictures or to remember which category each word or name belongs to once the test begins. In laboratory versions we can make sure that each person understands the categories used in the test and the words, faces, or names that define each category. For web versions of these tests, we have selected items that most people would agree on their category membership, and should work for as many people as possible. If the categories that you believe best represent the IAT's words, names, or faces are treated by the applet as wrong (red X ) for more than a few items, then that test will indeed not be adequate or accurate for you. We hope that you may have found something useful in the experience nevertheless.
6. Where can I find technical discussion of implicit social cognition and the IAT?
Answer: Papers from the laboratories of the Project Implicit principal investigators are available at http://projectimplicit.net/ and at the researcher’s personal pages. For starters, an overview of the topic of 'implicit social cognition' is available in an article by Greenwald & Banaji (1995), and in a second paper from (2002). The first publication of the IAT was in an article by Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz in 1998. A more recent paper by Nosek, Greenwald, & Banaji (2007) summarizes what is known about the reliability and validity of the IAT. Anthony Greenwald’s website a lso has information on the validity of the IAT (http://faculty.washington.edu/agg/iat_validity.htm). To learn about how to make an IAT and criticisms of the IAT see Lane, Banaji, Nosek, & Greenwald, 2007 .
7. If I have a strong association between Alcohol and Irresistible, does it mean I am an alcoholic?
Answer: No, IAT results should not be used to make diagnostic decisions. The results can be used as an opportunity for reflection about why the associations might have occurred and what they might mean in your life. If you find that managing alcohol is interfering with your functioning in some way, then this is a good impetus to seek a professional evaluation to determine whether you might need help managing your drinking. There are links to help you access a mental health professional in your area on the Health Resources page.
8. Does associating the self with being Anxious or Sad mean something is wrong with me?
Answer: Everyone has times when they are sad or anxious. The decision about whether these associations mean something is wrong is best made by considering how frequently and how intensely you experience sadness or anxiety. If these negative emotions are reducing your quality of life and getting in the way of you accomplishing your goals, then the associations may be a good signal that seeking help would be beneficial. If, however, the associations reflect a temporarily stressful time, or do not reflect your normal feelings, then they may just serve as a good reminder to take care of yourself by incorporating relaxation along with pleasurable and meaningful activities into your life.
9. If I associate Therapy with being Unhelpful, can I still benefit from treatment?
Answer: Having negative automatic associations does not mean that you cannot benefit form treatment. However, it is helpful when starting treatment to speak with the therapist/doctor/counselor about any concerns you have about the likely effectiveness of the treatment. Research indicates that being committed to and hopeful about treatment predicts better outcomes.
10. Isn’t the association between Mentally Ill People and Dangerous justified?
Answer: One of the common myths is that persons with mental illness are very dangerous and frequently violent. In fact, it is rare that most people with mental illnesses will be violent, especially if they do not abuse drugs or alcohol. Sadly, it is more likely that persons with mental illness will be victims of violence, rather than perpetrators. Yet, many people have these negative associations about persons with mental illness, perhaps in part because of common media portrayals of violent, “crazy” people.
11. Eating high-fat foods is bad for you, so why shouldn’t I find eating these foods shameful?
Answer: While it is true that eating high-fat foods frequently and in large quantities is unhealthy, this does not mean that these foods should be avoided altogether. Further, even if a food is not particularly healthy, this does not mean that one should feel ashamed about eating it. The tendency to make food a moral issue (e.g., saying one is ‘bad’ for having dessert) is common, but may be linked to the negative feelings about eating, shape and weight that can fuel overly restrictive diets and binge eating.
12. What does it mean that my IAT score is labeled 'slight', 'moderate', or 'strong'?
Answer: Assume that 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. Your score would be described as showing automatic preference for flowers. (In general, a result shows an association between concepts that, when paired, get fast responding.) The labels 'slight,' 'moderate,' and 'strong' refer to the strength of the association (i.e. how strongly you associate flower pictures with pleasant words). No matter which IAT you took, if a speed difference between different pairings was so great as to be obvious to you, it would likely be labeled a 'strong' effect. The 'moderate' label also indicates a difference large enough so that you would probably notice it. A 'slight' effect is one that is noticeable in statistical analysis, but you may not have been aware of it.
13. My feedback was that 'there were too many errors to determine a result.' Does this mean I have no automatic preference or association?
Answer: The test requires a certain number of correct responses in order to generate an interpretable result. If your feedback was that 'there were too many errors to determine a result,' then the data produced in your test were ones that cannot be interpreted confidently with regard to automatic associations. This is different from a result that shows little or no association, which will be reported to you as 'little to no' automatic preference/association.
14. When will implicit attitudes agree with explicit attitudes?
Answer: There are multiple reasons why explicit and implicit attitudes may not be the same. One explanation is that a person may be unwilling to accurately report some attitude. For example, if a professor asks a student "Do you like soap operas?" a student who is fully aware of spending two hours each day watching soap operas may nevertheless say "no" because of being embarrassed (unwilling) to reveal this fondness. An alternative explanation for explicit-implicit disagreement is that a person may be unable to accurately report an attitude. For example, if asked "Do you like persons with mental illness?" many people will respond "yes" because they regard themselves as unprejudiced. However, an IAT may reveal that these same people have automatic negative associations toward persons with mental illness (see, for example, Teachman, Wilson, & Komarovskaya, 2006). Individuals who show such a response are unaware of their implicit negativity and are therefore unable to report it explicitly. The unwilling-unable distinction is like the difference between hiding something from others versus something being hidden from you. We now know that there are lots of factors that can influence whether implicit and explicit attitudes will be weakly or strongly related, including willingness to report potentially embarrassing attitudes, how much you’ve thought about the attitude, etc. For more information about the relationship between implicit and explicit attitudes see Nosek, 2005.
15. What can I do about an automatic preference that I would rather not have?
Answer: First, bear in mind that these website IAT tests are not perfectly accurate. You may want to repeat the test before drawing even a tentative conclusion of this sort. On the other hand, it is very possible to possess an automatic preference that you would rather not have (the researchers who developed this test fall into this category). One solution is to seek experiences that could undo or reverse the patterns of experience that could have created the unwanted preference. This could mean reading and seeing material that opposes the implicit preference. It could mean interacting with people that provide experiences that can counter your preference. A more practical alternative may be to remain alert to the existence of the undesired preference, recognizing that it may intrude in unwanted fashion into your judgments and actions. Additionally, you may decide to embark on consciously planned actions that can compensate for known unconscious preferences and beliefs. This may involve acting in ways that you may not naturally act – for example, finding opportunities to interact with persons who have a mental illness if you have an implicit negative evaluation of this group, or reaching out to friends and family or seeking treatment for ongoing extreme sad or anxious mood if you implicitly associate yourself with being sad or anxious. Identifying effective mechanisms for managing and changing unwanted automatic preferences is an active research question in psychological science. The good news is that automatic preferences, automatic as they are, are also malleable. For more information about the malleability see Blair 2002.
16. Might a result indicating preference for one group over another be due to differences in familiarity with the groups?
Answer: The possibility that familiarity with one category (e.g., flowers) compared to the other (e.g., insects) can influence performance has been tested in research. It appears that the particular familiarity of individual items in the categories do not have much influence on IAT effects. At the same time, there is a known relation between familiarity and liking - people tend to like things that are familiar more than things that are unfamiliar. In this way, familiarity might be importantly related to implicit attitudes. What might emerge as an implicit bias may have its basis in unfamiliarity.
17. If I show an automatic association of mentally ill people with dangerous or blameworthy, does that mean that I'm prejudiced?
Answer: This is a very important question. Social psychologists use the word 'prejudiced' to describe people who endorse or approve of negative attitudes and discriminatory behavior toward various out-groups. Many people who show automatic preferences on the IAT are not prejudiced by this definition. It is possible to show biases on the IAT that are not consciously endorsed, or are even contradictory to intentional attitudes and beliefs. People who hold egalitarian conscious attitudes in the face of automatic negative attitudes may be able to function in a non-prejudiced fashion partly by making active efforts to prevent their automatic associations from producing discriminatory behavior. However, when they relax these active efforts, it is possible that these non-prejudiced people may be likely to show discrimination in thought or behavior. The question of the relation between implicit and explicit attitudes is of great interest to social and clinical psychologists, several of whom are doing research on that question. For more information see Banaji, Nosek, & Greenwald, 2004.
18. Why do many people show negative automatic associations with persons with mental illness?
Answer: Negative automatic associations may be common because of the deep learning of negative associations to the group Mentally Ill people in this society. High levels of negative references in American culture and mass media may contribute to this learning. Also, people often do not talk about their experience of mental illness, so many people are not aware of others’ mental illnesses, including among their friends, coworkers and family. As a consequence, many in the general public have the idea that mental illnesses are rare and that people who get them are necessarily very strange or cannot get better. Opportunities to positively (and knowingly) interact with persons with mental illness can illustrate that these myths are not true.
19. What is an implicit attitude?
Answer: An attitude is a positive or negative evaluation of some object. An implicit attitude is an attitude that can rub off on associated objects. Example: The company for which your spouse works is attacked in a legal suit. An inclination to believe that the company is guiltless could be a reflection of your positive attitude toward your spouse -- your positive attitude toward the company provides an indirect (implicit) indicator of the positive attitude toward your spouse. (If you believe the company guilty, the marriage may be in difficulty!) The word 'implicit' is used because these powerful attitudes are sometimes hidden from public view, and even from conscious control or awareness. For more background on implicit attitudes, read this paper (Banaji, 2001).
20. What is an implicit stereotype?
Answer: A stereotype is a belief that members of a group generally possess some characteristic (for example, the belief that women are typically nurturing). An implicit stereotype is a stereotype that is powerful enough to operate without conscious control. Example: Try answering this question: Is John Walters the name of a famous person? If you suspect yes, and especially if you were more likely to think yes than if the question had been about Jane Walters, you might be indirectly expressing a stereotype that associates the category of male (more than that of female) with fame-deserving achievement. And this may be the case even if there is famous female with a similar sounding last name (e.g., Barbara Walters). This type of judgment was used in one of the first experimental studies of implicit stereotypes (Banaji and Greenwald, 1995; Banaji, Hardin, & Rothman, 1993).
21. What are explicit attitudes or beliefs?
Answer: Explicit attitudes and beliefs are ones that are directly expressed or publicly stated. For example, the question asking for your liking for particular groups before you take the IAT is an example of your explicit or consciously accessible attitude. The standard procedure for obtaining such direct expressions is to ask people to report or describe them (a procedure known as 'self-report' when used in research). For example, if you've ever responded to opinion surveys, the responses you typically gave there would be considered explicit attitudes or beliefs.
22. What is the difference between implicit and automatic?
Answer: The terms "automatic" and "implicit" are closely related. They both refer to mental associations that are so well-established as to operate without awareness, or without intention, or without control. The term "unconscious" can be part of an implicit or automatic association, and specifically refers to lack of awareness.