Analyze the Strengths and Weaknesses of the IAT as a Research Tool
The main idea is that making a response is easier when closely related items share the same response key. We would say that one has an implicit preference for straight people relative to gay people if they are faster to complete the task when Straight People + Good / Gay People + Bad are paired together compared to when Gay People + Good / Straight People + Bad are paired together.You would receive feedback saying you have an implicit preference for flowers compared to insects if you respond faster when Flowers + Good / Insects + Bad are paired together compared to when Insects + Good / Flowers + Bad are paired together. The labels ‘slight’, ‘moderate’ and ‘strong’ reflect the strength of the implicit preference based on how much faster you respond to Flowers + Good / Insects + Bad versus Insects + Good / Flowers + Bad.
While Nosek and Greenwald say they agree that the IAT measures external influences and not just personally held attitudes, they add that it's a reflection of reality, not a problem with the test. "In my view," says Nosek, "implicit associations are the sum total of everyday associations." Premature publicity? In the end, the relationship between IAT scores and the real world will determine its value. In fact, to prove the test's worth, the test's developers have recently completed a meta-analysis of the IAT's predictive power, which is in press. "We found that in the domain of intergroup discrimination--race, age, sexual orientation--the IAT does better than self-report at predicting behavior," says Greenwald. Northwestern University social psychologist Alice Eagly, PhD, thinks the meta-analysis shows that the IAT provides modest predictions of behavior. "The IAT adds something," she says, "but it's not a direct line to the unconscious." Given these findings, the IAT is not yet ready for use in applied settings such as courtrooms, critics say. But the hype and public promotion of the measure have garnered the attention of many legal scholars who have begun to use the research to bolster workplace and other types of discrimination cases, says Mitchell. In fact, Greenwald and others have discussed concepts of implicit social cognition in court. In one case of workplace discrimination, Greenwald described the literature on implicit bias in rebuttal to a defense expert who, says Greenwald, had inaccurately described the research. However, he and his colleagues have made it clear that they do not support the use of specific IAT results in court either to help select a jury or screen witnesses for implicit bias. Mitchell thinks any discussion of implicit bias in the courtroom goes too far based on the state of the science. "The idea that we have associations that may be primed by the stimuli on the IAT sounds perfectly plausible," says Mitchell. "What those associations mean and what they indicate is an open question. To equate it with automatic preferences for different social groups is much less plausible."
In sum, whether it be to circumvent the willingness or awareness issue, the availability of valid implicit measures has become a theoretical imperative. In other words, implicit measures are not “explicit measures without bias’ and they do not always assess constructs identical to those assessed by explicit measures. Although related, the two types of measures stem from different information processing streams and appear linked to activations in different regions of the brain.
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