Chapter 8. Implicit Association Test

8.1 Introduction

Implicit Association Test
Implicit attitudes
Automatic associations based on previous learning through the experiential system.
explicit attitudes
Attitudes people are consciously aware of through the cognitive system.

Implicit Association Test

How fast are you at categorizing faces? How fast are you at categorizing words? In this experiment, through a carefully constructed series of trials, we will compare your ability to categorize faces and words. You are to respond as accurately and quickly as possible.

8.2 Experiment Setup

Experiment Setup

8.3 Instructions


You will need to press the space bar to begin the experiment. When the trials begin, a stimulus will be presented in the center and your job is to indicate in which category it belongs. The category names will be indicated to the left and right of the stimulus. See below for a diagram of how the screen will appear.

There is an image of a box with words.  On the left side of the box is the phrase 'Not caring'. On the right side of the box is the phrase 'Caring'. Instructions in the middle of the box state that the Z key on the keyboard should be pressed to select the phrase on the left side, while the forward slash should be pressed to select the phrase on the right side.

You will use the following keys to make your responses.

Key What Response Means
Z category on the left
/ category on the right

The experiment will take place in five blocks of trials. In some of the blocks, the item will be a word such as “liberty.” To one side will be the word “good” and to the other side the word “bad.” In other blocks, the stimulus will be a face, either African-American or Caucasian-American. To one side will be the word “African-American” and to the other side the word “Caucasian-American.” In some blocks, the stimulus might be either a word or a face and both sets of categories will appear. For the words, select either “good” or “bad” and for the faces, select either “African-American” or “Caucasian-American.” The screen might look as follows:

There is an image of a box with a picture in the middle and words on both sides.  In the middle of the box is a picture of a Caucasian-American male.  The word on the left side of the box is 'African-American' and the word on the right side of the box is 'Caucasian-American'.

8.4 Experiment

Begin Experiment

8.5 Results


8.6 Debriefing


Consciously, you might report that you are not prejudiced. Unconsciously, you might harbor a prejudice that may have unknowingly been instilled in you by a member of your family, the media or some other source.

In this experiment, your implicit attitude toward a topic was assessed (Greenwald et al., 1998; Greenwald & Farnham, 2000). Implicit attitudes are automatic associations that people have but are not consciously aware that they have. Implicit attitudes predict some forms of behavior better than explicit attitudes (attitudes that you are consciously aware of) because they are less influenced by self-presentational concerns about how one should or should not feel.

The experiment you just did is actually a replication of a technique that social psychologists use to measure implicit attitudes. With the Implicit Association Test, participants are presented with a word or an image (e.g., a picture of an African American face) and then asked to recognize positive or negative words. Researchers observe how quickly the participants respond: if the word or image triggers negative feelings, participants are predicted to recognize those words or images more quickly. Notice that participants are not directly asked about their potential prejudiced attitudes.

On some trials in this experiment, you were presented with a face, for example, either an African-American or Caucasian-American face. In some trials you were instructed to indicate with your left hand if the face is African-American, and with your right hand you were to indicate if the face is Caucasian-American. On other trials, you were presented with a word such as “joy” and you were asked to indicate if it is a positive word (by using your left hand) or a negative word (by using your right hand). You never were asked if the face was positive or negative, but the left hand, in the example given, was used to respond to both the African-American faces and positive words. Such a pairing is opposite of predicted social stereotypes. Finally, there were some trials in which you used the same hand for the African-American faces and the negative words. This pairing matches predicted social stereotypes. The question is, what is the reaction time in the trials in which the same hand is used to respond to both African-American faces and negative words versus trials in which the same hand is used to respond to both African-American faces and positive words. In trials such as these, when the pairing matches the predicted stereotypes, people respond faster than if the pairing is opposite the stereotypes. Remember, you were never asked to respond to whether the face is good or bad, so no conscious response was requested. As such, it is assumed that the differences in responses are the result of implicit or unconscious attitudes.

Because implicit attitudes are outside of conscious awareness, they can predict subtle social behaviors that people themselves do not recognize. For example, people may claim to have no prejudice toward African-Americans, but when talking to African-Americans, their body language may tell a different story. They may make little to no eye contact, sit farther away, or interrupt when the other person talking. These behaviors are poorly predicted by people’s explicit attitudes, but correlate highly with implicit attitudes (Dovidio et al., 2002). Additionally, explicit attitudes often do a better job of predicting more deliberate and reasoned behavior where implicit attitudes often fare better in predicting spontaneous behavior (Rydell & McConnell, 2006).


Dovidio, J. F., Kawakami, K., & Gaertner, S. L. (2002). Implicit and explicit prejudice and interracial interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82 (1), 62–68.

Greenwald, A. G., & Farnham, S. D. (2000). Using the implicit association test to measure self-esteem and self-concept. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79(6), 1022-1038.

Greenwald, A. G., McGhee, D. E., & Schwartz, J. L. K. (1998). Measuring individual differences in implicit cognition: The implicit association test. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1464-1480.

Rudman, L. A. (2004). Sources of implicit attitudes. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 13(2), 79-82.

Rydell, R. J., & McConnell, A. R. (2006). Understanding implicit and explicit attitude change: A systems of reasoning analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91 (6), 995–1008.

8.7 Quiz


Question 8.1

When words were presented, regardless of the block type, you had to respond Good or Bad.

Question 8.2

When a face was presented, you were instructed to indicate only if the face was African-American or Caucasian-American.

Question 8.3

The dependent variable is the value that the experimenter collects to indicate how you performed in the experiment. In this case, the most important variable we measured was how quickly you responded to the faces displayed. So, the correct answer is reaction time.

Question 8.4

The independent variable is the value that is changed by the experimenter. The independent variable is most often seen on the x-axis of the graph. In this case, the pairing of the response to the word and face was the independent variable.

Question 8.5

Implicit cognitive processes are processes of which we are unaware. In this sense, implicit attitudes compare with explicit attitudes as unconscious processing compares with conscious processing.

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