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J Pers Soc Psychol. 2001 Nov;81(5):760-73.

How do indirect measures of evaluation work? Evaluating the inference of prejudice in the Implicit Association Test.

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  • 1INSEAD, Fontainebleau, France.


There has been significant interest in indirect measures of attitudes like the Implicit Association Test (IAT), presumably because of the possibility of uncovering implicit prejudices. The authors derived a set of qualitative predictions for people's performance in the IAT on the basis of random walk models. These were supported in 3 experiments comparing clearly positive or negative categories to nonwords. They also provided evidence that participants shift their response criterion when doing the IAT. Because of these criterion shifts, a response pattern in the IAT can have multiple causes. Thus, it is not possible to infer a single cause (such as prejudice) from IAT results. A surprising additional result was that nonwords were treated as though they were evaluated more negatively than obviously negative items like insects, suggesting that low familiarity items may generate the pattern of data previously interpreted as evidence for implicit prejudice.

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