Implicit Attitudes Can Change Over the Long Term
January 11, 2019 5:21 PM   Subscribe

“We provide the first report of long-term change in both implicit and explicit attitudes – measured from the same individual – towards multiple social groups,” says psychological scientist Tessa E. S. Charlesworth of Harvard University, first author on the study. “This research is important because it shows that, contrary to previous assumptions that implicit attitudes were stable features of the mind or society, implicit attitudes appear, in fact, to be capable of long-term durable change.”

Deidentified and cleaned data for this study, along with data-analysis scripts, have been made publicly available via the Open Science Framework. The raw deidentified data and the materials from the Project Implicit demonstration website database are archived online. This article has received the badges for Open Data and Open Materials.
posted by clew (12 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Link is not found.
posted by corb at 5:26 PM on January 11

[fixed link]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 5:37 PM on January 11

contrary to previous assumptions that implicit attitudes were stable features of the mind or society

Who the hell was making these assumptions? On what basis? Do people really think culture is some static monolith? That there is a core way of being we all are and nothing can change that?

Maybe I shouldn't be surprised though. I've certainly encountered several people on the Blue who seem convinced that racism and sexism are transhistorical and universal features of all human existence, but I chalked that up to them being weary and out of hope, not to an actual belief that people's ideas aren't shaped by their reality.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 8:22 PM on January 11 [4 favorites]

I've certainly encountered several people on the Blue who seem convinced that racism and sexism are transhistorical and universal features of all human existence

People also seem to believe that the country-state as we know it somehow existed before the end of WWI, but in most ways, it didn't.

People always live in the assumption that their current reality is how all of history was. It's never true in fact, but it's always true for them.
posted by hippybear at 8:25 PM on January 11 [15 favorites]

I'm guessing their comment about stability is just referring to all the previous implicit bias studies explaining implicit bias as not only implicit but cognitively dissonant: you might think you're not a racist because you've learned from diverse experiences (say, as a college student meeting people of different backgrounds), but our studies show that your biases are nevertheless present and never went away that easily. It's in this specific sense that they theorized implicit biases are stable and not easily changed. In the earlier work they wouldn't have had enough information to show if implicit biases could change over time, and it would have been future work which is what this new stuff addresses. It wasn't clear earlier on if any intervention was possible, etc.
posted by polymodus at 9:20 PM on January 11 [8 favorites]

Whenever I encounter people talking about implicit bias and the ability to change it, I'm reminded of the horrific brainwashing scene in A Clockwork Orange.
posted by phenylphenol at 3:26 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]

Well, implicit bias fundamentally has people making assumptions based on anecdotes, right? So to me, it's not the Clockwork Orange (pavlovian conditioning to prevent specific behavior) but more later cbt or mindfulness (be aware of or reduce distortions in thinking so you can handle uncomfortable impulses or feelings ).
posted by ikea_femme at 10:00 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]

the horrific brainwashing scene in A Clockwork Orange.

And at a time when N.A. government-funded programs to see just how to accomplish that were underway. And psychologists at more than one high-roller college were very interested in theories treating the population as a black box.

What is the meaning of 'implicit' under such conditions?
posted by Twang at 3:21 PM on January 12


this study does not follow individuals, showing that individuals are shifting their implicit beliefs.

Instead, it is a data analysis of the IAT - implicit association test - comparing recent results with results ten years ago. What it finds is that, over all, biases have decreased. With implicit bias against sexuality decreasing much faster than implicit bias against age, for example.

Personally, I've never though the IAT had face validity. Too brief, too complex, too easy to be gamed. I think the concept is interesting.... but the implementation has always bothered me. And, as someone who works in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, I feel frustrated when people pull the test out and say "Look, scientists have found a way to probe your inner depths!"

So I'm hesitantly interested in these results. If they take into account the many many confounding factors, then these results may show something interesting about our society. And, that will add a few interesting arguments to the debate on if people get more conservative as they age, as well.
posted by rebent at 11:02 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]

the abstract:
Using 4.4 million tests of implicit and explicit attitudes measured continuously from an Internet population of U.S. respondents over 13 years, we conducted the first comparative analysis using time-series models to examine patterns of long-term change in six social-group attitudes: sexual orientation, race, skin tone, age, disability, and body weight. Even within just a decade, all explicit responses showed change toward attitude neutrality. Parallel implicit responses also showed change toward neutrality for sexual orientation, race, and skin-tone attitudes but revealed stability over time for age and disability attitudes and change away from neutrality for body-weight attitudes. These data provide previously unavailable evidence for long-term implicit attitude change and stability across multiple social groups; the data can be used to generate and test theoretical predictions as well as construct forecasts of future attitudes.
And this is where my frustration realizes itself. The way this study was framed was that individuals can change their biases. But we are seeing that *society* can change its biases.
posted by rebent at 11:10 AM on January 13

If it's a representative sample, a change in society's biases in a decade could only happen if individuals' biases were changing, yesno? The population doesn't turn over in a decade.

"an Internet population of U.S. respondents" might turn over, though.
posted by clew at 3:52 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]

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