The Implicit Relational Assessment Procedure as a Measure of Self-Esteem

By Timko, C. Alix; England, Erica L. et al. | The Psychological Record, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

The Implicit Relational Assessment Procedure as a Measure of Self-Esteem


Timko, C. Alix, England, Erica L., Herbert, James D., Forman, Evan M., The Psychological Record


Implicitly measured self-esteem has been found to be regularly and weakly correlated with explicitly measured self-esteem (Greenwald et al., 2002; Olson, Fazio, & Hermann, 2007). The implicit measurement of self-esteem has drawn some criticism in that it assumes that explicit and implicit measures assess two fundamentally different forms of self-esteem. Thus, it is assumed that individuals either have a distinct, unconscious sense of self-esteem or that they consciously misrepresent how they feel about themselves (Tafarodi & Ho, 2006). More recent research has indicated not that implicit measurement taps into unconscious self-esteem, but rather that individuals may consciously overreport their levels of self-esteem (Olson et al., 2007) or that implicit measurement may simply be assessing a different aspect of conscious self-esteem (Fazio & Olson, 2003; Tarfarodi & Ho, 2006).

Thus, implicit measurement may be useful as another method by which to measure self-esteem, as opposed to a method by which to assess a qualitatively different (unconscious) type of self-esteem. Given the potential relationships between implicitly measured self-esteem, behavior, and therapeutic outcomes, it is necessary to have an implicit measure of self-esteem that is solidly grounded in theory. A firm theoretical grounding provides the basis for specific, testable hypotheses. The Implicit Relational Assessment Procedure (IRAP) may represent such a measure.

Implicit Relational Assessment Procedure

Unlike the Implicit Association Test (IAT; Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwarz, 1998) and other previously constructed implicit measures, the IRAP is grounded in a contemporary behavior-analytic theory of language and cognition: relational frame theory (RFT; Hayes, Barnes-Holmes, & Roche, 2001). The IRAP builds upon the IAT by employing relational terms, which specify the relationships between the stimuli to which the participant is responding. According to the relational elaboration and coherence (REC) model (Barnes-Holmes, Murphy, Barnes-Holmes, & Stewart, 2010; Cullen, Barnes-Holmes, Barnes-Holmes, & Stewart, 2009), an RFT-based model designed to clarify the relationship between explicit measures and implicit responding on the IRAP, responses on implicit and explicit measures are both due to relational responding that is dependent on an individual's learning history. Reaction times on the IRAP are due to an immediate relational response. That is, given the need to respond to items presented during the IRAP quickly and correctly, there is insufficient time to engage in logical or elaborate processing. Thus, implicit measurement, according to the REC model, reflects the relative strength of immediate relational responding. In completing explicit measures, participants have more time to engage in elaborate relational responding. Furthermore, explicit relational responding is subject to control by certain features of the environmental context that are absent in implicit relational responding (e.g., demand characteristics). Barnes-Holmes, Murphy, and colleagues (2010) note that the REC model may, at first blush, resemble more common dual-system models. In dual-system models, attitudes are assessed and stored either associatively (implicitly) or via a series of propositions or rules (explicitly). These separate systems are thought to be uniquely accessed depending on the type of assessment used. Though rules may play a role in the more elaborate relational responding that can occur when explicit assessment is used, according to the REC model the process is the same as the one that occurs when implicit assessment is used.

Research Using the IRAP

In the seminal IRAP publication, Barnes-Holmes and colleagues (2006) presented three IRAP experiments: matching positive or negative target words to the samples "pleasant" and "unpleasant," assessing attitudes toward individuals with autism, and assessing participants' preferences for their own ethnic group.

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