About the IAT

How does the IAT work?

The IAT measures the strength of associations between concepts (e.g., black people, gay people) and evaluations (e.g., good, bad) or stereotypes (e.g., athletic, clumsy). The main idea is that making a response is easier when closely related items share the same response key. 

When doing an IAT you are asked to quickly sort words into categories that are on the left- and right-hand side of the computer screen by pressing the “e” key if the word belongs to the category on the left and the “i” key if the word belongs to the category on the right. The IAT has five main parts.

In the first part of the IAT, you sort words relating to the concepts (e.g., fat people, thin people) into categories. So if the category “Black People” was on the left, and a picture of a Black person appeared on the screen, you would press the “e” key.

In the second part of the IAT, you sort words relating to the evaluation (e.g., good, bad). So if the category “good” was on the left, and a pleasant word appeared on the screen, you would press the “e” key.

In the third part of the IAT, the categories are combined and you are asked to sort both concept and evaluation words. So the categories on the left-hand side would be Fat People/Good and the categories on the right-hand side would be Thin People/Bad. It is important to note that the order in which the blocks are presented varies across participants, so some people will do the Fat People/Good, Thin People/Bad part first and other people will do the Fat People/Bad, Thin People/Good part first.

In the fourth part of the IAT, the placement of the concepts switches. If the category “Black People” was previously on the left, now it would be on the right. Importantly, the number of trials in this part of the IAT is increased in order to minimize the effects of practice.

In the final part of the IAT, the categories are combined in a way that is opposite to what they were before. If the category on the left was previously Black People/Good, it would now be Black People/Bad.

How is the IAT scored?

The Implicit Association Test (IAT) measures the strength of associations between concepts (e.g., black people, gay people) and evaluations (e.g., good, bad) or stereotypes (e.g., athletic, clumsy). 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. The IAT score is based on how long it takes a person, on average, to sort the words in the third part of the IAT versus the fifth part of the IAT.

What are explicit and implicit stereotypes?

Stereotypes are the belief that most members of a group have some characteristic. Some examples of stereotypes are the belief that women are nurturing or the belief that police officers like donuts. An explicit stereotype is the kind that you deliberately think about and report. An implicit stereotype is one that is relatively inaccessible to conscious awareness and/or control. Even if you say that men and women are equally good at math, it is possible that you associate math more strongly with men without being actively aware of it. In this case we would say that you have an implicit math + men stereotype.

What is an attitude?

An attitude is your evaluation of some concept (e.g., person, place, thing, or idea). An explicit attitude is the kind of attitude that you deliberately think about and report. For example, you could tell someone whether or not you like math. Implicit attitudes are positive and negative evaluations that are much less accessible to our conscious awareness and/or control. Even if you say that you like math (your explicit attitude), it is possible that you associate math with negativity without being actively aware of it. In this case, we would say that your implicit attitude toward math is negative.

Ethical Considerations

The purpose of this website is to educate about implicit bias. We give feedback on Implicit Association Test (IAT) performance to raise awareness and encourage self-reflection.

Participation in scientific research should not be mandatory.
The tests at this site are scientific research, and it is not ethical to require that people participate in scientific research. We appreciate that instructors, employers, and others might want to use the site for school or work assignments, and we encourage you to do so. However, it is not ethical to pressure or force people to participate against their will. Instructors who grant course credit for participation should offer an alternative assignment. For example, students who don’t want to participate may read and summarize a scientific or popular press article about implicit bias. And you should also never ask anyone to share their personal feedback with you.

The IAT should not be used for diagnostic purposes.
Research shows the IAT is an effective educational tool for raising awareness about implicit bias, but the IAT cannot and should not be used for diagnostic or selection purposes (e.g., hiring or qualification decisions). For example, using the IAT to choose jurors is not justifiable, but it is appropriate to use the IAT to teach jurors about implicit bias. The IAT does not meet the standards of measurement reliability for diagnostic use. Just as blood pressure readings might change from one doctor’s visit to another depending on how stressed and tired you are, and even how much coffee you may have had, IAT results can change from one time to another depending on where you currently are, your recent thoughts or experiences, and deliberate strategies you might use to influence test results.

Using the IAT for research.
People might not like their IAT results. Being confronted with IAT results might cause defensiveness or negative emotions. If you are considering using the IAT in your research, your research plan should take this possibility into account. It is also important to understand that changes in IAT performance over time might reflect increased experience with the test rather than a genuine change in implicit bias. Pre-post research designs (where you administer an IAT, administer some intervention, and then give another IAT) are discouraged unless you have a “control group” that does not complete the intervention.

The IAT has potential for use beyond the scientific laboratory. However, in the absence of relevant scientific expertise, there is potential for misuse. We do not advise its use outside of the safeguards of a research institution.

More Frequently Asked Questions

Visit the Project Implicit Demo Site to read more Frequently Asked Questions about the Implicit Association Test.