Implicit attitudes are the positive or negative thoughts, feelings, or actions towards objects or groups which arise due to past experiences which one is either unaware of or which one cannot attribute to an identified previous experience. Among the most fundamental groups to which humans belong are their gender, race/ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status, religion, nationality, and political and intellectual orientations. The commonly used definition of implicit attitude within cognitive and social psychology comes from Greenwald & Banaji’s template for definitions of terms related to implicit cognition (see also implicit cognition, implicit stereotype, and implicit self-esteem for usage of this template):
"Implicit attitudes are introspectively unidentified (or inaccurately identified) traces of past experience that mediate favorable or unfavorable feeling, thought, or action toward social objects".
Note that an attitude is differentiated from the concept of a stereotype in that it functions as a broad favorable or unfavorable characteristic towards a social object whereas a stereotype is a set of favorable and/or unfavorable characteristics which is applied to an individual based on social group membership.
- 1 Awareness of implicit attitudes
- 2 Research on implicit attitudes
- 2.1 Early focus on explicit attitudes
- 2.2 New ideas about implicit versus explicit attitudes
- 2.3 Methods for investigation
- 3 See also
- 4 References
Awareness of implicit attitudes
A review of research findings by Gawronski et al. (2006) proposed three different aspects of attitudes captured by current indirect measures that could be outside of conscious awareness: the source, the content, and the impact of an attitude. Source awareness is roughly described as the “awareness of the origin of a particular attitude” (emphasis added). Content awareness is differentiated from source awareness by the lack of awareness about the attitude, rather than simply its origin. Finally, one may have awareness of both the attitude and its source but the attitude may still have influences on thought or behavior beyond ones awareness; this can be thought of as impact awareness. On the basis of their review, Gawronski et al. (2006) conclude that (a) both indirectly assessed and self-reported attitudes can be characterized by lack of source awareness, (b) there is no evidence for lack of content awareness of indirectly assessed attitudes, and (c) there is some evidence showing that indirectly assessed, but not self-reported, attitudes can be characterized by lack of impact awareness. The most compelling evidence for content awareness of implicit attitudes has been provided by Hahn and colleagues who showed that people are highly accurate in predicting their scores on the Implicit Association Test.
Research on implicit attitudes
Early focus on explicit attitudes
Much of the literature within the field of social psychology has focused on explicit constructions of the attitude construct. Until more recently, examination of attitudes beyond reported awareness has lagged far behind that of explicit attitudes. This point is driven home in a review of research in the mid 1990s which found that among attitudinal research published in 1989, approximately only 1 in 9 experimental paradigms utilized an indirect measure of attitude (necessary for determining contributions of implicit attitudes) while all of the reviewed studies employed direct measures such as self report of attitudes which were explicitly aware to participants.
New ideas about implicit versus explicit attitudes
Newer research has called into question the distinction between implicit and explicit attitudes. Fazio & Olson ask whether a person who is being primed to detect implicit attitudes is necessarily blind to their implicit beliefs. In their paper they bring up the question; just because a person is primed on an unconscious level and may indeed be answering on an unconscious level, does that not mean that they could still be aware of their attitudes nonetheless. "A second troublesome aspect of the implicit-explicit distinction is that it implies preexisting dual attitudes"  They go on to say there is not a known test capable of measuring explicit attitudes solely without the influence of implicit attitudes as well. However, they do go on to say that context can have a significant effect on this particular line of research. People's explicitly stated and implicitly tested attitudes are more likely to be in sync for trivial matters such as preference in a presidential election than for highly charged issues such as predispositions towards a certain race. They exert that "The more sensitive the domain, the greater the likelihood that motivational factors will be evoked and exert some inﬂuence on overt responses to an explicit measure"  In other words, it is easier to compare explicit and implicit attitudes on safe subjects than subjects where people are likely to mask their beliefs.
A prominent dual process theory specifying the relation between implicit and explicit attitudes is Gawronski and Bodenhausen's associative-propositional evaluation (APE) model. A central assumption of the APE model is that implicit and explicit evaluations are the product of two functionally distinct mental processes. Whereas implicit evaluations are assumed to be the outcome of associative processes, explicit evaluations are assumed to be the outcome of propositional processes. Associative processes are conceptualized as the activation of associations on the basis of feature similarity and spatio-temporal contiguity during learning. Propositional processes are defined as the validation of activated information on the basis of cognitive consistency. A central assumption of the APE model is that people tend to rely on their implicit evaluations when making explicit evaluative judgments to the extent that the implicit evaluative response is consistent with other momentarily considered propositional information. However, people may reject implicit evaluations for making explicit evaluative judgments when the implicit evaluative response is inconsistent with other momentarily considered propositional information. In addition to explaining the relation between implicit and explicit evaluations, the APE model accounts for diverging patterns of attitude change, including (a) changes in implicit but not explicit evaluations, (b) changes in explicit but not implicit evaluations, (c) corresponding changes in implicit and explicit evaluations, and (d) opposite changes in implicit and explicit evaluations.
Methods for investigation
There are wide ranging experimental methods in the literature which provide evidence for the presence and effects of implicit attitudes on cognition and behavior. Following are links or brief descriptions where appropriate and findings from several of these methods.
Implicit Association Test
The Implicit Association Test is a latency-based measure of the relative associations between two concepts. In a series of tasks, participants sort words or images representing a target concept such as race (white/black) and stimuli with known positive/negative valence into two categories (usually indicated by right or left location on a computer screen). Each category of concept words or images is paired with both positive and negative stimuli. Faster categorization indicates greater association between words and/or which are grouped together (ex. faster categorization of dogs when paired with positive rather than negative words) and therefore similar positive or negative attitude towards the concept in question. A full demonstration of the IAT procedure can be found at the Project Implicit link and the IAT Inquisit link below.
Research using the IAT measure of implicit attitudes has demonstrated consistent experimental and population-based attitudes with respect to concepts such as gender, race, and age. A recent analysis from the Project Implicit database found that science-gender stereotypes are predictive of differences in gender related math and science performance across countries in an international sample. Research has also successfully used the IAT in consumer research.
Evaluative priming task
The evaluative priming task (sometimes also called an ‘affective priming task’) described by Fazio et al. (1986) is another latency-based measure which measures how quickly participants recognize positive or negative connotation of a stimulus adjective. Adjectives categorized by participants as most strongly positive or negative in connotation were used as attitudinal primes. These prime words were followed by target words which participants were asked to categorize based on a simple judgment such as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Primes facilitate categorization (speed of response) of target words when they possess the same valence characteristics as the target words. It follows that quicker responding to target words in the presence of primes with positive valence indicates a more positive implicit attitude towards the target.
Research using the evaluative priming task has been frequently used in research on eating and attitudes towards food. In clinical studies, the procedure was used to study attitudes of those diagnosed with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa. Along with many of the other methods presented here, researchers have used the procedure to measure the effects of stereotypes, including measurement of the effectiveness of stereotype reduction treatments.
Semantic priming task
In the semantic priming task paradigm described by Wittenbrink et al. (1997), participants are shown a word prime at intervals which are too brief for reported awareness (see subliminal stimuli). The word prime consists of two groups of words representing the concept in question (such as black sounding names or white sounding names). Participants were then asked to complete a lexical decision task (LDT) to identify if target stimuli are words or a non-words. The target stimuli consist of words with known positive or negative valence. When words with positive valence are categorized more quickly in the presence of one group of word primes (such as black sounding names), this indicates positive attitudes towards the group.
Extrinsic Affective Simon Task (EAST)
In the Extrinsic Affective Simon Task (EAST) as described by De Houwer (2003), participants categorized stimuli which consisted of words that either had positive or negative valence that were presented in either the color white or two different colors. When the words are presented in white, participants categorize based words on their perceived positive or negative valence. When the words are presented in color, participants are asked to categorize based on color alone and ignore word meaning. When colored words are presented, categorization accuracy and speed are facilitated when, for words which the respondent has a positive implicit attitude, the response was the same as was expected for white words with obvious positive valence. A full demonstration of the EAST procedure can be found in the external links below.
The EAST has been used in research of attitudes of those who have specific phobias and/or anxiety. Additionally, the test has been recently used to measure implicit attitudes towards alcohol in populations who have substance abuse problems; and the test has been cited as having relatively high predictive value for problem substance use.
Go/No-go Association Task (GNAT)
In practice, the GNAT appears similar to the Implicit Association Test in that participants are asked to categorize targets representing either a concept (such as race; ex. white or black names) or words which have obvious positive or negative valence. Participants are asked to respond (‘go’) or decline to respond (‘no-go’) during a short interval after each of the stimuli are presented. In test trials, participants are asked to respond to one of the concepts (white or black) and words with either positive or negative valence; these are then switched so that the concept is then paired with the opposite valence category. When paired with words with positive valence, faster and more accurate responding indicates greater association, and therefore positive attitude towards the target concept (either white or black race). A full demonstration of the GNAT procedure can be found in the external links below.
Like the EAST, the GNAT has been used in populations who have been diagnosed with acute phobias to measure fear associations in addition to research on stereotypes and discrimination.
Affective Misattribution Procedure (AMP)
The Affective Misattribution Procedure relies on participant ratings of neutral stimuli as an indirect measure of implicit attitudes rather than latency or accuracy measures. In the procedure, participants are first presented with a stimulus (usually an image or word), for either a brief visible period or subliminally, which is suspected to elicit a positive or negative attitude. Directly afterwards, participants are presented with a neutral stimulus (most often a Chinese pictograph) which they are asked to rate as either more or less, in this case visually, pleasing than an average stimulus. During these trials, the positive or negative affect in response to the priming image is misattributed or ‘projected’ onto the neutral stimulus such that it is rated as more or less pleasing than would be expected from solitary presentation. Neutral stimuli which are rated as more visually pleasing indicate that the preceding concept presented in the prime stimuli are associated with positive valence. A full demonstration of the AMP procedure can be found in the external links below.
The AMP has been used to study attitudes towards political candidates and has proven useful in predicting voting behavior. Also, the procedure is frequently used in the study of substance use; for example, attitudes towards cigarettes among smokers and non-smokers and attitudes towards alcohol among heavy drinkers.
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- Greenwald, A.G., & Banaji, M.R. (1995). Implicit social cognition: Attitudes, self-esteem, and stereotypes. Psychological Review, 102(1), 4-27.
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- Hahn, A., Judd, C.M., Hirsh, H.K., & Blair, I.V.. (in press). Awareness of implicit attitudes. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. doi: 10.1037/a0035028
- Fazio, Russell; Michael Olson (6 August 2002). "Implicit Measures in Social Cognition Research: Their Meaning and Use". Annual Review of Psychology 54: 297–327. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.54.101601.145225.
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