Test Retest Stability

Although IAT-based measures of association display somewhat impressive test-retest correlations, the same cannot be said for other implicit measures. For example, Bosson et al. (2000) obtained low test-retest correlations for implicit self-esteem measures based on (a) preference for the letters of one's own name, (b) priming facilitation, and (c) an emotional Stroop task constructed to tap self-esteem. Our categorization tendency measures have 1-month test-retest correlations in the r = .5 range (Meier & Robinson, 2004; Robinson, Solberg, et al., 2003). TAT-based measures of motives have test-retest correlations in the r = .2-4 range (McClelland, 1987). Finally, Kindt and Brosschot (1998) have reported that test-retest correlations for attention to threat are so low as to be nonsignificant.

In summarizing the data on test-retest stability, it is useful to make two points. One, the test-retest correlations for self-reported traits (which are quite impressive; McCrae & Costa, 1994) may be inflated by the fact that people form certain beliefs about themselves that are relatively permanent (Robinson & Clore, 2002a). Two, in contrast to self-reported traits, implicit processes are inherently unstable. One can train patterns of selective attention (MacLeod et al., 2002), alter the accessibility of constructs (Higgins, 1996), or implicit associations (Greenwald et al., 2002), by relatively trivial situational manipulations. In the opinion of the authors, these results do not necessarily detract from the validity of implicit measures of cognition. Cognitive associations in memory are plausibly altered by every single event affecting the individual (Anderson, 1982). Thus, it is not surprising that contextual factors alter implicit measures, just as it is not surprising that many implicit measures have low test-retest stability coefficients. Despite these thoughts, we believe there is an onus on investigators of implicit cognition to confront the issue of test-retest stability as directly as possible.

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