Reaction Latencies as Indicators for Political Attitudes: The Implicit Association Test

Thomas Plischke


Measurement of political attitudes through verbalized introspection presupposes that respondents are aware of their attitudes and motivated to report them. But what is to be done if at least one of these conditions is not met? In recent years, psychological research has developed a set of measurement techniques which do not rely on conscious introspection, but on reaction latencies. In this paper, the logic and functioning of the currently most popular instrument of this sort, the “Implicit Association Test” (IAT), will be elucidated. Furthermore, it will be discussed how so-called “implicit” and conventional (“explicit”) measures relate to each other. The validity of the IAT will be examined using data from a study about undecided voters. It will be shown that reaction latencies can predict individual voting behavior for undecided voters surprisingly well. The paper concludes by assessing the benefit of implicit measures in political attitude research.

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