Catching The Mind In Action Implicit Methods In Personality Research And Assessment

Michael D. Robinson and Clayton Neighbors

Key to implicit methods is the assumption that many of a person's most important tendencies are revealed only through performance. An intelligent person, for example, is not someone who claims to be intelligent, as such self-ratings may or may not correlate with performance measures (for a pessimistic view, see Brown & Dutton, 1995). Rather, an intelligent person is someone who can process information efficiently and reliably, even with concurrent mental load or distraction. Performance measures need not be limited to examining intelligence, however, as important contributions to social (e.g., Higgins, 1996), personality (e.g., McClelland, 1987), and clinical (e.g., Mathews & MacLeod, 1994) psychology have similarly been based on performance rather than on self-reports of performance.

Implicit methods are based on performance (e.g., reaction times) and therefore do not require self-insight; explicit methods (e.g., trait measures) are based on self-report and therefore require self-insight. The history of research on introspection has taught us that self-reports of mental processes cannot be trusted (MacLeod, 1993). This is why cognitive psychologists measure reaction time, memory accuracy, and perception within tightly controlled experimental paradigms (MacLeod, 1993). Thus, a focus on implicit methods should, ideally, foster a greater integration of personality psychology with cognitive psychology, a cross-fertilization that should enrich both areas.

Before commencing, it is important to note that, given page limitations, this chapter can neither be exhaustive of implicit methods nor sufficiently detailed to permit immediate use in research. The reader will be referred to appropriate sources for further reading; see also Table 9.1 in this regard. In the chapter, we will first make some general comments on the contrasting assumptions of mind represented by implicit and explicit methods. Second, we will present an overview on four classes of implicit measures, namely those related to (a) attention, (b) depressogenic thought, (c) category accessibility, and (d) associations in memory. Within the context of the last heading, we will describe the Implicit Association Test (IAT), which has generated considerable interest recently. Third, we will discuss the reliability and validity of implicit measures. And fourth and finally, we will present some closing thoughts on the importance of implicit methods to the science of personality and assessment.

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