Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Does the Compatibility Effect in the Race Implicit Association Test Reflect Familiarity or Affect?

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Does the Compatibility Effect in the Race Implicit Association Test Reflect Familiarity or Affect?

Article excerpt

In the Implicit Association Test (IAT; Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998) involving race classification (white vs. black), an apparent compatibility effect is found between the "pleasant" attribute and the "white" category. This race IAT effect has been interpreted in terms of "implicit prejudice"-that is, more positive evaluation of whites than of blacks that is not open to consciousness. We suggested instead that the race IAT effect is better interpreted in terms of the salience asymmetry account proposed by Rothermund and Wentura (2004), whereby greater familiarity with the white category makes it more salient. Evidence that has been presented against the familiarity interpretation is considered, and alternative interpretations of findings related to the race IAT effect are discussed.

In the Implicit Association Test (IAT; Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998), subjects make speeded classification of two kinds of stimuli: targets and attributes. The target categories comprise the concepts of interest-for example, black Americans versus white Americans or flowers versus insects. In target classification, subjects are asked to classify exemplar stimuli (e.g., first names, such as Meredith, Alan, Ebony, or Jamal, or photographs of white Americans and black Americans) into the target categories. The attributes involve an evaluative dimension, such as pleasant versus unpleasant, and subjects classify stimuli (e.g., words such as love, peace, abuse, or disaster) into the attribute categories. The critical phase of the task involves the blocks in which the target and attribute classification trials are interleaved. In this phase, the assignment of responses to the target and attribute categories may be arranged so that they are "compatible"; for example, the flower and pleasant categories are assigned the right-hand key and the insect and unpleasant categories are assigned the left-hand key. Alternatively, the response assignment may be "incompatible" (where the flower and unpleasant categories are assigned the same key and the insect and pleasant categories are assigned the other key). The IAT effect refers to the faster (as well as more accurate) responses in the compatible block than in the incompatible block, typically on the order of 100-200 msec, and is assumed to reflect the more positive evaluation of one target category (e.g., flowers) than the other (e.g., insects).

The IAT has rapidly gained a large following among social cognition researchers as a measure of "implicit" attitude. Indeed, in the IAT, subjects are not explicitly required to evaluate their preference toward the target categories (e.g., white vs. black Americans); instead, the IAT effect emerges indirectly. Also, unlike the traditional self-report measures which are open to self-presentational forces like social desirability and political correctness, the IAT affords little opportunity for deliberate, intentional strategies to influence performance (see Kim, 2003, for a demonstration that instructing subjects to pretend that they liked one category more than the other did not change the size or direction of the IAT effect). These features of the IAT support the claim that it is an "implicit" measure. However, it is not clear whether the IAT actually taps valence (positive or negative evaluation). In this article, we review the evidence that has been used to argue the case that the IAT effect observed with race is based on affective valence. To anticipate our conclusion, we will argue that the case is weak and suggest that the race IAT effect is instead based on relative familiarity of one category (e.g., white) over the other (e.g., black).

Before turning to the review, we raise a theoretical issue that motivated our analysis, one with broad implications for research on implicit attitude in general. It concerns the definition of implicit attitude. The term implicit has many senses, and social psychologists have generally focused on "lack of awareness" as the relevant feature. …

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