Implicit Attitudes

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Following an initial paper by Greenwald and Banaji (1995), there has been somewhat of an explosion of research on implicit measures of attitudes and the self-concept. The case Greenwald and Banaji made was that there are important implicit aspects of attitudes and the self-concept that are introspectively unidentifiable, but nevertheless influence behavior. Drawing to some extent on Fazio's (1989) idea that an attitude could be represented as an association between an object and an evaluation (Banaji, 2001), Greenwald and colleagues (Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998) devised the Implicit Association Test (IAT) to be a flexible method of examining associations in memory. In the initial investigation, the authors showed, among other things, that people implicitly like flowers (versus insects), that Korean and Japanese Americans have an implicit in-group preference, and that Caucasian Americans are prejudiced against Black Americans, at least at the implicit level. Two other results from this investigation are noteworthy. One, the extent of one's preference (for flowers, own-race members, or Caucasians) was remarkably strong at the implicit level. And two, correlations between implicit and self-reported attitudes were weak, hovering around the r = .2 mark.

Following the initial investigation by Greenwald et al. (1998), there have been numerous studies using the IAT in the context of social cognition. The IAT continues to be impressive on several counts. One, the size of the normative effects is often large (d > .7). For example, Caucasian participants in Study 3 of the initial investigation (Greenwald et al., 1998) exhibited an implicit preference for White (over Black) Americans at the d = 1.13 level. Two, demographic variables often substantially affect IAT scores. For example, men score masculine, whereas women score feminine, on an IAT designed to measure femininity versus masculinity (Greenwald et al., 2002). And three, IAT-based measures of attitudes are quite stable, at least for implicit measures. Greenwald et al. (2002) reported several studies exhibiting test-retest correlations in the neighborhood of r = .6. Thus, whatever the IAT is measuring, it is somewhat stable.

Despite considerable enthusiasm for this research, we should at least voice some potential concerns. The IAT seems to tap universal attitudes most prominently. For example, most participants favor flowers and White people at the implicit level. However, evidence for the correlational validity of IAT-based measures is comparatively lacking. For example, Bosson, Swann, and Pennebaker (2000) conducted a study examining the reliability and validity of various measures of implicit self-esteem. They found that the IAT-based measure was relatively unique in having high test-retest stability. However, this test, like the other implicit measures, did not predict their criterion measures (e.g., observer ratings of self-esteem) very well. By contrast, a self-report measure of self-esteem did. Thus, we feel that further evidence related to criterion validity, using criteria other than trait self-report, would be useful for furthering the successes of IAT-based measures (see Banaji, 2001, for further discussion).

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