Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science

Use of Implicit Measures for Organizational Research: An Empirical Example

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science

Use of Implicit Measures for Organizational Research: An Empirical Example

Article excerpt

An increasing amount of attention is being paid by social and cognitive psychologists to implicit processing, which has ubiquitous effects on attitudes and behaviours. Unfortunately, organizational scholars have tended to focus almost exclusively on explicit processing, which limits understanding of how employees function at work if implicit processing does indeed play a role. In this article, the authors argue that implicit processing is likely prevalent in organizational settings and discuss ways that it can be measured. The authors then present the results of an experiment that suggests that organizational justice - an important work-based variable - has implicit effects on motivation. Moreover, the magnitude of explicit and implicit effects was moderated by need for cognition, a stable individual difference variable. These results support the need to examine implicit processing and its effects in organizations.

Keywords: implicit measures, implicit processing, organizational justice, promotion focus, organizational behaviour

Have you ever said or did something without knowing why? Compelling research in social- cognitive psychology suggests that many human attitudes and behaviours are influenced by automatic or implicit processing (Bargh & Chartrand, 1999), which is unintentional and occurs outside people's awareness and control (Shiffrin & Schneider, 1977). For example, encountering people who belong to different social groups automatically activates traits associated with those groups (Devine, 1989) and elicits trait-consistent behaviours in observers (Bargh, Chen, & Burrows, 1996). Not surprisingly, because these effects are automatic, people cannot readily describe them or explain their origin. Thusly, techniques that assess explicit processing provide incomplete accounts of people's attitudes, goals, and behaviours, which are also influenced by implicit processing (Strack & Deutsch, 2004).

Implicit processing is advantageous because it enables people to effectively self-regulate. Although humans are limited information processors with finite attention and working memory (Miller, 1956), which restricts the amount of information that can be attended to consciously, our capacity for information is increased via implicit processing. This is possible because implicit processing consumes few attentional and cognitive resources, which are otherwise depleted by explicit processing (see Kanfer & Ackerman, 1989). Thusly, employees are able to multitask and work toward several goals at once (e.g., fulfilling commitments to supervisors, clients, and family) because many of these pursuits (especially familiar and well-known ones; Logan, 2002) are handled by implicit processing. Indeed, a substantial amount of goal regulation occurs outside awareness (Carver & Scheier, 1998; Johnson, Chang, & Lord, 2006).

To date, organizational scholars have focused almost exclusively on explicit processes that underlie employee attitudes and behaviours. For example, many motivational theories emphasise conscious processes, proposing that employees calculate the likelihood of performing a behaviour and whether performing it will have desirable consequences (Vroom, 1964) or that motivation levels are a function of appraising job characteristics (Oldham & Hackman, 1980). Research on employee attitudes and their antecedents also emphasises explicit processes. For example, workers judge discrepancies between what they value and what their job provides to determine their level of job satisfaction (Locke, 1976), which is typically measured using self-report techniques that rely on deliberative processing (Spector, 1997).

Fortunately, this trend is changing owing to calls by organizational scholars (e.g., Johnson, Pogson, & Levy, 2006; Lane & Scott, 2007; Locke & Latham, 2004) to pay greater attention to implicit processes. In support of this view, evidence that such processes impact work-related attitudes and behaviours is beginning to accrue. …

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