The Situationist

The Implicit Situation of Love

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 16, 2010

Earlier this month, Anthony Greenwald, one of the pioneers in IAT research, posted on Scientific American.  Here is how his piece, titled “I Love Him, I Love Him Not” began.

* * *

Over a decade ago, I devised a test for detecting attitudes and biases operating below the level of a person’s awareness.

Known as the Implicit Association Test, or IAT, it is presently the most widely used of the measures of implicit attitudes that have been developed by social psychologists over the past 25 years. It has been self-administered online by millions, many of whom have been surprised—sometimes unpleasantly—by evidence of their own unconscious attitudes and stereotypes regarding race, age, gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation.

Now it is my turn to be surprised—pleasantly. The test has been used for a purpose that I long imagined as possible, but never dared attempt, knowing that it needed the attention of psychologists who focus on romantic relationships.  The results suggest that the IAT is effective in predicting which romantic relationships will last.

The report, just published in the journal Psychological Science, is provocatively titled “Assessing the Seeds of Relationship Decay.” In it, three psychologists at the University of Rochester — Soonhee Lee, Ronald Rogge, and Harry Reis—describe their research predicting relationship breakup. They recruited participants by many means, including referrals by psychology faculty and various Internet sources. The mostly female participants were married, engaged, or otherwise in exclusive, committed relationships.

The research started with the collection of several measures—not only the IAT, but also some established questionnaire measures of relationship quality—all of which might be useful predictors of breakup.  Of the 222 participants who started, 116 were successfully re-contacted to obtain reports on the status of their relationships at various times up to 12 months later.

Nineteen (16%) of the re-contacted participants reported that a breakup had occurred.  Remarkably, the IAT measure of a subject’s attitude toward her partner did a better job of predicting the breakup than did several questionnaire measures of relationship quality.

The authors concluded that the questionnaire measures might have been ineffective either because participants were unaware of negative attitudes toward their partners or perhaps because they knew about them but were unwilling to report them. If that’s correct, the IAT worked because it depends on neither awareness of the attitude nor willingness to report it.

What exactly is the IAT, and how does it tap into mental processes that can operate outside of awareness?

* * *

You can read the entire post here.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Cupid’s Situation,” The Situation of Love,” “Some Situational Signals of a Suicidal Disposition,” The Interior Situation of Undecided Voters,” “The Interior Situation of Suicide,” “Implicit Associations on Oprah,” “MSNBC Report on Implicit Associations,”Measuring Implicit Attitudes,” Mispredicting Our Reactions to Racism,” Banaji & Greenwald on Edge – Part IV,” and Do You Implicitly Prefer Markets or Regulation?,”

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