Implicit association test


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Overview and purpose

To assess attitudes, self esteem, personality, and many other characteristics of individuals, participants are often asked to answer a series of questions about themselves, such as "I often feel like a failure". Usually, the purpose of these procedures, called self report tests or explicit measures, are transparent.

Two issues compromise the validity and utility of these explicit measures. First, individuals are sometimes oblivious to their characteristics, unable to access this information from memory (Grum & von Collani, 2007). Second, participants often distort their responses, often to appear more desirable (Greenwald, McGhee & Schwartz, 1998). The implicit association test is a paradigm that is used to circumvent these problems.

Description

The implicit association test (Greenwald, McGhee & Schwartz, 1998), sometimes called the IAT, is often used to assess traits, such as prejudice, self esteem (Bosson, Swann, & Pennebaker, 2000; Greenwald & Farnham, 2000), and personality, while ensuring that participants are oblivious to the purpose of this procedure. To illustrate, suppose that participants are instructed to press one button, perhaps the letter Q on a keyboard, whenever a word that corresponds to themselves, such as their name, gender, zodiac sign, and month in which they were born, appear. They are instructed to press another button, such as the P on a keyboard, whenever a word that does not correspond to themselves, such as a different name, gender, and so forth, is presented.

In addition, participants might be asked to press the letter Q when a word that is synonymous with conscientious behavior, such as diligence, appears, and to press the letter P when a word that is synonymous with negligent behavior, such as laziness, appears. In other words, in these trials, the same button represents both the self and conscientious behavior. Individuals who are conscientious-and thus associate the self with conscientious traits-are assumed to complete this task effectively, committing few errors and responding rapidly.

On other trials, the buttons that correspond to these traits are reversed. The letter P might correspond to conscientious behavior and the letter Q might correspond to negligent behavior. In these trials, the same button represents both the self and negligent behavior. Individuals who are not conscientious are assumed to perform more effectively in this condition. The difference in performance across the two conditions is assumed to reflect the extent to which individuals are conscientious (Steffens, 2004).

The implicit association test is used to characterize attitudes and personality. The procedure has been applied in a range of domains, including neuropsychology (Phelps, O'Connor, Cunningham, Funayama, Gatenby & Gore, et al. (2000), clinical psychology (Teachman, Gregg, & Woody, 2001), social psychology (McConnell & Leibold, 2001), and motivation (Brunstein & Schmitt, 2004).

Empirical evidence

A plethora of studies have explored, and usually validated, the utility of this procedure. The implicit association test has been validated by contrasting established groups, such as phobic patients versus control participants (Teachman, Gregg, & Woody, 2001). The test has been used to predict behavior, such as acts of discrimination (McConnell & Leibold, 2001). A modified scoring algorithm, developed by Greenwald, Nosek, and Banaji (2003) augments the validity of this procedure.

Generally, correlations between implicit and explicit measures of some trait are small to moderate. Correlations between implicit measures of the five broad personality traits--extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness--and their explicit counterparts, as derived from the NEO-FFI ranged from .18 to .41, as demonstrated by Grum and von Collani (2007). Other studies have also uncovered moderate correlations (e.g., Steffens & Buchner, 2003)

More importantly, several studies imply that implicit association tests seem to be relatively impervious to distortion. Asendorpf, Banse, and Mucke (2002) showed implicit association tests identified participants who were shy, even when they were instructed to conceal this trait. The implicit association test can also identify prejudices even when participants were instructed to conceal these attitudes (e.g., Kim, 2003). Steffens (2004), however, showed that faking can distort responses to some extent, but implicit tests are less susceptible to this problems that are explicit tests, even after practice.

Short questions

Usually, when participants complete the implicit association test, they are exposed to single words, such as you or racist, on each trial. Consequently, until recently, the implicit association test could not assess concepts that are more nuanced and need to be represented by more than one word. Fortunately, as Yovel and Friedman (2013) showed, the implicit association test can be extended to instances in which each trial comprises a phrase, such as "I don't talk a lot"", rather than single words. Yovel and Friedman (2013) utilized this extension of the implicit association test to develop an implicit measure of personality.

In some trials, the phrases were derived from a measure of extraversion, developed by Goldberg (2005). Typical phrases include "I don't talk a lot" or "I start conversations". On other trials, the phrases were statements that were either true or false. Examples of true statements include "I'm sitting in front of the computer" or "I'm participating in an experiment in psychology". Examples of false statements include "I'm sitting on the sand at the beach" or "I'm playing soccer outside". The task of participants was to press one button if the statement was true and one button if the statement was false. If participants are extraverted, they should respond more rapidly when the phrases that reflect extraversion and the true statements correspond to the same button. In contrast, if participants are introverted, they should respond more rapidly when the phrases that reflect introversion and the true statements correspond to the same button.

Like most implicit association tests, this variant actually included a series of blocks. For example, during the first block, participants pressed one button if the phrase corresponded to extraversion and another button if the phrase corresponded to introversion. During the second block, participants pressed one button if the phrase was true and another button if the phrase was false. For the next block, some of the individuals pressed one button if the phrase corresponded to extraversion or was true and another button if the phrase corresponded to introversion and was untrue. The remaining blocks were similar, except which button corresponded to which category was reversed systematically.

The results were very compelling. First, this implicit measure of extraversion correlated with an explicit measure of extraversion, r = .36. Furthermore, both the implicit measure and explicit measure of extraversion were positively related to proportion of errors. This finding was predicted, given that extraversion is associated with risk taking and behavioral activation. Furthermore, the implicit measure was still significantly related to this measure of errors after controlling the explicit measure. That is, the implicit measure demonstrated incremental validity.

Controversies

One criticism of the IAT as a measure of personality is that individuals might focus attention only on the desirability of items. For instance, rather than evaluate whether a term reflects conscientious behavior, they might ascertain whether an item is desirable. Individuals who perceive themselves favorably, often designated as a high implicit self esteem (Bosson, Swann, & Pennebaker, 2000), will perform the task more effectively if words that relate to themselves and conscientious, and thus desirable, behavior correspond to the same button-even if they are not conscientious. The profile of performance on the implicit association test might largely reflect self esteem not specific traits (Steffens, 2004). Nevertheless, contrary to this proposition, Grum and von Collani (2007) showed that implicit and explicit measures of personality were correlated even after implicit self esteem was controlled.

Susceptibility to distortion

Initially, many researchers contended that individuals could not distort their responses to implicit association tests (e.g., Egloff & Schmukle, 2002; Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998). That is, individuals could not deliberately depict themselves positively. Nevertheless, researchers subsequently began to question this assumption (e.g., Fiedler & Bluemke, 2005; McDaniel, Beier, Perkins, Goggin, & Frankel, 2009; Steffens, 2004).

In a key study, Fiedler and Bluemke (2005) showed that participants could depict themselves positively, particularly after they received instructions on how to manipulate the response on the implicit association test. Even without these instructions, participants could distort their responses, provided they had earlier practiced this test (Fiedler & Bluemke, 2005).

Steffens (2004) also showed that participants could distort their responses. In this study, the implicit association test was used to assess the personality of individuals--conscientiousness and extraversion. Participants first completed this test to assess the extent to which they are conscientious or extraverted. Next, participants were informed that both conscientiousness and extraversion are desirable traits--and they should attempt to demonstrate these qualities when they next complete the test.

After they were encouraged to distort their responses, participants tended to depict themselves as more extraverted. The degree to which they portrayed themselves as conscientious did not change significantly. This finding indicates that faking might be possible for some, but not all, personality traits (Steffens, 2004).

McDaniel, Beier, Perkins, Goggin, and Frankel (2009), however, underscored a limitation with this study: Participants were always instructed to distort their responses after the baseline condition, in which faking was not encouraged. Previous exposure to the test, and the instruction to fake, might have affected the responses of individuals.

To override this limitation, McDaniel, Beier, Perkins, Goggin, and Frankel (2009) replicated the study, except half of the participants were encouraged to distort their responses first and then answer accurately afterwards rather than vice versa. McDaniel, Beier, Perkins, Goggin, and Frankel (2009) again showed that participants could inflate the extent to which they were extraverted but not conscientious.

Specifically, this distortion was especially pronounced if participants had already been exposed to the test before the instructions to fake were presented. Nevertheless, even if they had not been exposed to the test, participants could still inflate the degree to which they were extraverted (McDaniel, Beier, Perkins, Goggin, & Frankel, 2009).

These findings do not clarify why extraversion, but not conscientiousness, could be distorted. McDaniel, Beier, Perkins, Goggin, and Frankel (2009) suggested that extraversion might be more salient than conscientiousness--an issue that awaits investigation.

Capacity to predict discriminatory behavior

Some studies have challenged the utility of the Implicit Association Test to predict discriminatory behavior (e.g., Blanton, Jaccard, Klick, Mellers, Mitchell, & Tetlock, 2009). Blanton, Jaccard, Klick, Mellers, Mitchell, and Tetlock (2009) challenged studies, such as work published by McConnell and Leibold (2001) and Ziegert and Hanges (2005), that had validated the use of this test for these purposes.

Specifically, a reanalysis of the findings uncovered by McConnell and Leibold (2001) showed that individuals who demonstrated a bias against black individuals, as gauged by the Implicit Association Test, showed less discrimination towards a black, relate to a white, experimenter. These conclusions were reached when the data were not transformed and outliers were removed. Nevertheless, in a subsequent report, McConnell and Leibold (2009), challenge these reinterpretations.

Distinction between attitudes and norms

As Yoshida, Peach, Zanna, and Spencer (2012) showed, implicit association tests confound two different associations: attitudes and norms. To illustrate, consider an implicit association test that, supposedly, examines attitudes towards apples and candy bars. The traditional test is designed to assess whether individuals associate apples and candy bars with pleasant items and unpleasant items. Supposedly, if participants perform this task more effectively whenever candy bars and pleasant items correspond to the same button, the researcher concludes these individuals prefer candy bars over apples.

But, according to Yoshida, Peach, Zanna, and Spencer (2012), this association between candy bars and pleasant items can be ascribed to two reasons. First, individuals may actually like candy bars more than apples; that is, their attitudes towards candy bars may be favorable. Alternatively, individuals may feel that people in general like candy bars more than apples; that is, they believe that social norms towards candy bars are more favorable.

Yoshida, Peach, Zanna, and Spencer (2012) distinguished these two categories of associations. To assess attitudes, they examined the degree to which apples and candy bars are associated with "I like" and "I don't like". For example, if participants perform this task more effectively whenever candy bars and "I like" correspond to the same button, the researcher concludes these individuals prefer candy bars over apples. To assess norms, they undertook the same procedure, except "I" was translated to "people". Both implicit attitudes and implicit norms were uniquely related to performance on the traditional implicit association test.

The researchers also replicated this study but using other domains, such as attitudes and norms towards elderly people, female engineers, and African Canadians. They also examined the determinants and consequences of these implicit attitudes and implicit norms. Overall, they discovered that both implicit attitudes and implicit norms affect behavior and also found that opinions of other people influence implicit norms.

Other benefits of the IAT

Modification of attitudes

Typically, the IAT is used to assess the attitudes of individuals implicitly. Nevertheless, the IAT has been also been used to modify the attitudes of individuals. The IAT, for example, can shape the implicit self esteem of individuals or influence attitudes towards candy, as measured implicitly (Ebert, Steffens, von Stulpnagel, & Jelenec, 2009).

To illustrate, in a study conducted by Ebert, Steffens, von Stulpnagel, and Jelenec ( 2009), participants undertook a revised version of the IAT. In particular, for some participants, one button was always assigned to both positive words, like pleasant, and words that represent the self, like I, me, or self. The other button was always assigned to both negative words, like bad, and words that represent other individuals, such as others, you, and those. For other participants, one button was always assigned to positive words and words that represent other individuals; the second button was always assigned to negative words and words that represent the self.

Following this procedure, participants completed other tasks, intended to gauge their self esteem implicitly. They completed a go-no go task, for example (Nosek & Banaji, 2001). A series of words appeared on a screen. Participants were asked to press a button, but only if the word corresponded to the self and positive stimuli. Alternatively, they were asked to press a button, but only if the word corresponded to the self and negative stimuli. If performance is better when both self and positive words correspond to the response, implicit self esteem is assumed to be higher.

As Ebert, Steffens, von Stulpnagel, and Jelenec (2009) showed, implicit self esteem was higher if both self and positive words were assigned to the same button during the IAT task. This finding implies the IAT task can modify implicit attitudes towards the self. A subsequent study, using an analogous procedure, showed that attitudes towards candy bars could also be changed by the IAT.

Similarly, Prestwich, Perugini, Hurling, and Richetin (2010) showed the implicit association test can be used to change attitudes towards drinks. For example, in one condition, images of drink A corresponded to the same button as self, me, my, and mine. Images of drink B corresponded to the same button as their, them, others, they, and people. Drinks that were connected to the self, in this example Drink A, were subsequently perceived more favorably, as gauged by an implicit, but not explicit, measures.

Interestingly, if implicit self esteem (see implicit versus explicit self esteem) was low however, this effect was not observed. Presumably, if implicit self esteem is elevated, objects that become associated with the self are perceived favorably. If implicit self esteem is low, objects that become associated with the self are not perceived as favorably.

Other methods to assess implicit attitudes

The Go No go association task

The Go No go association task (Nosek & Banaji, 2001), sometimes called the GNAT, is very similar to the implicit association test, but offers a few practical benefits. Specifically, like the implicit association test, the GNAT assesses the association between two concepts, such as African American and positive.

However, when participants complete the implicit association test, they need to press one of two buttons. On each block of trials, one button might correspond to two concepts, such as African American and positive, whereas another button might correspond to two other concepts, such as European American and negative. In contrast, when participants complete the GNAT, they press only one button whenever the targets appear, such as African American or positive, and do not press this button when other words appear.

To illustrate the GNAT, in one study, conducted by Williams and Kaufmann (2012), in one block of trials, participants needed to press a button whenever a word associated with bugs, such as ant, or a word associated with positive, such as love, appeared. They did not press any button if neither set of words appeared. If no response was emitted within one second, the next trial was initiated. In another block of trials, participants needed to press a button whenever a word associated with fruits or negative appeared. Then, in the next two blocks of trials, these associations were reversed: bugs were associated with negative and fruit was associated with positive.

For each block of trials, the researcher can calculate d prime and B or leniency. The measure of d prime, in essence, is the difference between the probability of correctly detecting the targets, called hits, minus the probability of incorrectly pressing the button when the words were not targets, called false alarms. This difference is then subjected to an adjustment, called a probit.

A high d prime indicates the two concepts are appreciably associated with each other. For example, suppose the d prime that corresponds to bugs and negative as well as the d prime that corresponds to fruit and positive is higher than d primes associated with bugs and positive or fruit and negative. These findings would indicate the individual perceives bugs negatively but fruit positively.

The GNAT has been used to assess implicit associations in many domains. In particular, this technique has been utilized to gauge the implicit attitudes towards spiders (Teachman, 2007), genetically modified food (Spence & Townsend, 2007), and racial prejudice (Sherman, Stroessner, Conrey, & Azam, 2005; Smith, Stewart, Myers, & Latu, 2008). The GNAT has also been utilized to gauge personality (Boldero, Rawlings, & Haslam, 2007) and other facets of the self-concept (Devos, Viera, Diaz, & Dunn, 2007).

The Go No go association task: Reliability

Williams and Kaufmann (2012) examined the degree to which, in general, the GNAT is reliable. Furthermore, this article demonstrated a technique to measure the reliability of this GNAT.

As Williams and Kaufmann (2012) highlighted, several complications need to be considered. D prime cannot be readily subjected to common formulas that calculate reliability, such a Cronbach's alpha or internal consistency. That is, D prime is not computed on each trial. Admittedly, this problem can be overcome by calculating several D primes on subsets of trials, such as the D prime of odd trials and the D prime of even trials. But, in addition, D primes do not conform to key assumptions of Cronbach's alpha. For example, the D prime of one set of trials and the D prime of another set of trials do not sum to the D prime of all these trials.

To override this problem, some researchers merely subject the reaction times, instead of the D primes, into formulas that calculate Cronbach's alpha (e.g., Spence & Townsend, 2007). Nevertheless, the reaction times are not suitable, because trials are usually terminated after one second. The distribution of reactions times, therefore, is artificially restricted.

Instead, Williams and Kaufmann (2012) provide a series of guidelines on how many sets of D primes can be computed for each participant and then subjected to formulas that resemble split half reliability. One technique, for example, they developed is called the Random Sample of Split Halves. In essence, they argue that researchers could randomly divide the trials into two sets, such as trials 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9 versus trials 2, 3, 8, 10, 11, 12 and so on. For each person, the d prime of each set is computed. A split half reliability is then calculated. This process is then repeated for 1000 or so additional random splits, and the average of these reliabilities is computed.

Williams and Kaufmann (2012) applied this technique, and some other methods, to calculate the reliability of the GNAT. In general, they discovered that 30 to 40 trials per block will tend to generate a moderate reliability of .6 to .7. In addition, 80 to 90 trials per block will tend to generate a high reliability, above .8. Although reliability will obviously depend on the content and context, these findings indicate that, in general, GNAT is reliable, provided the number of trials in each block exceeds about 50 or so.

The Breadth-based Adjective Rating Task or BART

The Breadth-based Adjective Rating Task or BART is another procedure that can be used to assess implicit attitudes towards people or institutions. That is, the BART can predict whether individuals tend to experience positive or negative states when they contemplate some person or group.

Originally developed as a measure of implicit self esteem, participants receive a list of 144 adjectives, such as wise, careless, innovative, indecisive, thoughtful, irresponsible, humorous, and inefficient. They rate, usually on a nine point scale, the extent to which they feel these adjectives characterize some person or group. For example, to evaluate implicit self esteem, individuals would be asked to indicate the extent to which they feel these adjectives describe their own personality. To evaluate a newspaper implicitly, participants would instead indicate the degree to which they feel this paper exhibits these traits.

Obviously, some of the traits are desirable, such as wise, innovative, thoughtful, and humorous. Other traits are undesirable, including careless, indecisive, irresponsible, and inefficient. However, to gauge attitudes, the researcher does not simply compare the ratings of desirable traits to the ratings of undesirable traits: The algorithm that researchers apply is appreciably subtler.

Instead, some of the traits are broadly applicable to most contexts. Attributes such as wise, careless, thoughtful, and irresponsible implies the person exhibits these characteristics in many circumstances. Other traits are more specific, applying only to a circumscribed set of contexts. Characteristics like innovative, indecisive, humorous, and inefficient, for example, are pertinent to only some settings.

For positive and negative traits separately, the researcher calculates whether or not the individuals were more likely to endorse the broad or specific characteristics. To illustrate, if participants primarily invoke broad, rather than specific, positive traits to describe someone, they will often experience positive feelings towards this person. These broad positive traits are associated with many contexts. Their implicit attitudes towards this person will thus be positive.

In contrast, if participants primarily invoke broad, rather than specific, negative traits to describe someone, they will often experience negative feelings towards this person. These broad negative traits are also associated with many contexts. Their implicit attitudes towards this person tend will be negative. For the same reason, participants who primarily endorse specific instead of broad positive traits will not often experience positive attitudes towards the target, whereas participants who primarily endorse specific negative traits will not often experience negative attitudes towards the target.

Research has validated the application of this rationale to gauge both self esteem as well as attitudes towards other people or entities. In one study, conducted by Steinman and Karpinski (2009), participants undertook the BART to establish their implicit attitudes towards a local newspaper. In addition, their explicit attitudes towards this newspaper were measured. Implicit attitudes predicted whether or not they would later choose this newspaper over other alternatives, even after controlling explicit attitudes.

Implicit measure of intentions

People often maintain they intend to undertake some act, such as attend a party. But, actually, they may not really intend to engage in this act. Ask, Granhag, Juhlin, and Vrij (2012) developed a technique that can differentiate genuine intentions from false claims.

The rationale is quite straightforward. If people genuinely intend to achieve some goal, they will tend to perceive anything that is associated with this goal positively, called evaluative readiness. If they want to lose weight, for example, they become more inclined to associate healthy food with positive feelings, a tendency that evolved to facilitate the achievement of goals.

To illustrate how this rationale can be applied, in one study, participants were told they will either visit a shopping mall or commit a mock crime. All participants were then told to claim they will be visiting a shopping mall. Later, participants completed an evaluating priming task. In particular, two words were presented in rapid succession: only the second word could be recognized consciously. The task of participants was to decide whether the second word, such as lovely or horrible, was positive or negative. If participants really planned to shop, they could categorize positive words more rapidly if these items followed terms associated with shopping, such as cash register, receipt, buy, or change. A similar task could thus be conducted to ascertain whether people have really committed to other intentions as well.

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Created by Dr Simon Moss on 18/10/2008

Related objectives:
- Name letter effect - Name liking measure - Affect misattribution procedure - Implicit measures of mood and emotion - Measures of accessibility - Implicit association test - Word count method - Measures of aggression - Games -


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