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Classic experiments explained

Implicit Association Test

In short

The Implicit Association Test, or IAT for short, (developed by Greenwald, McGhee and Schwartz in 1998) is a tool which is used to measure implicit biases and unconscious attitudes, as well as automatic preferences, by recording the time the participant takes to sort certain concepts into two categories. These implicit biases (usually directed at particular stereotypes or groups) may not be otherwise revealed through self-report.

What is the IAT?

Some of the most widely used applications of the IAT include measuring self-esteem, stereotypes, prejudices, self-concept and implicit attitudes. It is used in research to study implicit cognition, which concerns the automatic mental processes that a person has no conscious awareness of.

The IAT utilises the fact that participants have to make a rapid judgement, which means that the scores could reflect their true attitudes, attitudes people may be reluctant to reveal openly. Therefore, the issue of social-desirability bias can be tackled.

An image of the instructions screen of the IAT task. Participants must categorise words or images using the F and J keys on their keyboard.

Participants are presented with ‘good’ words like ‘joy’ and ‘bad’ words such as ‘terrible’. In the first part of the experiment, they are required to categorise these words in a way that is stereotypically associated.

Then, the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ categories switch, so that participants are required to sort the stimuli in a way that is not stereotypically associated.

In this way, a participant’s accuracy and reaction time is measured and implicit biases may be revealed. A participant may be said to have an implicit bias if they are faster to respond on trials where stimuli are stereotypically associated than on trials where stimuli are associated counter to stereotype.

There are many different IAT variations. Currently in Gorilla, you can try the ‘Pictures and Words’ variation. This task can be cloned into your own projects, where you can adapt the stimuli.

What is the importance of IAT?

People may not be able to communicate what is in their mind, possibly because they are unable to or are just unwilling to. This can create a large problem in psychological assessments around prejudices. Participants are likely to easily lie about the true extent of their biases.

The IAT is based primarily on behavioural performance data instead. This is important since participants are unaware of the specific conclusions that are drawn from their responses, because researchers hide the purpose of their measurement. Thus, the IAT to some extent prevents response factors like demand characteristics, faking and self-presentation from operating.

Can I use the IAT in online research?

Yes, absolutely! In fact, other researchers have used IAT tasks to investigate the implicit measurement of psychopathy (Pink, et al., 2023).

How does it work in Gorilla?

You can try out and clone our IAT task example. You can also tweak this sample to use your own stimuli.

Have a look: Try the IAT in Gorilla

Are there any papers Gorilla users have written using the IAT?

Yes, there are! Have a look at the following article:

The implicit measurement of psychopathy


Greenwald, A. G., McGhee, D. E., & Schwartz, J. L. (1998). Measuring individual differences in implicit cognition: The implicit association test. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(6), 1464.

Jordan, C. H. (2020). Implicit Association Test. In Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences (pp. 2165-2169). Cham: Springer International Publishing.

Kim, D.-Y. (2003). Voluntary controllability of the implicit association test (IAT). Social Psychology Quarterly, 66(1), 83–96.

Pink, J., Snowden, R. J., & Gray, N. S. (2023). The implicit measurement of psychopathy. Journal of Research in Personality, 103, 104339.

Rezaei, A. R. (2011). Validity and reliability of the IAT: Measuring gender and ethnic stereotypes. Computers in Human Behavior, 27(5), 1937-1941.

This page was written in collaboration with Lizzie Drury