Friday, January 25, 2008

I'm Alive I'm Dead

Standing on the beach
With a gun in my hand
Staring at the sea
Staring at the sand

-The Cure

Are you Dead or Alive? To find out, now you too can take another Implicit Association Test (IAT)!

Are you alive? Are you sure?

The Neurocritic is NEITHER Dead NOR Alive. Or both Dead AND Alive. Plus, as promised, today we'll cover "Tips for Manipulating the IAT."

You have completed the study.

Your Result

Your data suggest little to no automatic identification with Alive compared to Dead.

Your results, summarized above, are an implicit indicator of whether you are alive or dead. Implicit measures are superior to self-report because the latter is notoriously unreliable. People may report being alive because social pressures suggest that it is more desirable to be alive. Also, people may not have introspective access to their animate-status, making such self-report untrustworthy.

In a prior study, we found that self-report was particularly unreliable for people who were dead suggesting that implicit measures will be especially useful for this population.

Importantly, your results may be influenced by cultural norms rather than your personal animate status. Cultural norms are strongly biased toward "alive" so if you show a stronger identity with alive over dead, you should be suspicious that the result may be due to this extrapersonal influence.

Also, these associations are inherently "relative" meaning that we cannot estimate your alive associations separately from your dead associations. So, if you are both or neither, we cannot tell the difference. Finally, if you hang out with a lot of dead people, then your effects might be due to strong associations of others with dead rather than yourself with alive.

Cautions aside, this implicit measure of dead identity shall become the new standard assessment. For too long, the low-reliability finger-finding-pulse method has errantly allowed dead people to continue 'living' among us. This must stop.

A Professor Dr. Arina Bones Ph.D. production.

If you are otherwise confused or uncertain about your results, you may wish to evaluate whether you are Human or Alien.

I'm alive
I'm dead
I'm the stranger
Killing an arab

-The Cure, Killing An Arab

it was a short poetic attempt at condensing my impression of the key moments in 'l'etranger' (the outsider) by albert camus
(R. Smith, cure news number 11, October 1991).

The Implicit Association Test (IAT) is all the rage in social psychology as a measure of hidden "unconscious" biases or prejudices that most people are afraid to admit to themselves (or to reveal in polite company within academic settings). The Situationist linked to an article in the APS Observer:
The IAT: How and When It Works

By Jesse Erwin

. . .

In a time where social desirability confounds are of pervasive concern in psychological research, one of the IAT’s greatest merits appears to be resistance to faking. Studies have demonstrated that participants rarely devise a successful faking strategy. It appears that taking one’s time is the easiest way to doctor results. “It does work,” Greenwald says of the strategy, “but it also tends to be detectable statistically.”
In Monday's entry, The Neurocritic was Human, All Too Human (AND Alien). My "faking" strategy was simple, and relied on neither deliberate slowing of response times nor a long-standing affiliation with aliens. When SELF and ALIEN were mapped to the same key, I merely said to myself, "I'm an alien." This strategy was transient, applied only when those stimulus-response mappings were the same, not when SELF and ALIEN were mapped to different keys. I used the same strategy for the Dead or Alive IAT. In both cases, I responded as quickly and as accurately as possible. So what's up?

A recent study by De Houwer and colleagues (2007) demonstrated that participants can easily fake their results in an IAT for newly-acquired attitudes about fictitious social groups (Niffites and Luupites), when instructed to do so by the experimenters. The subjects were able to manipulate both the magnitude and the direction of the IAT effect. The authors raised the general point that "implicit" measures of attitudes may not be entirely implicit. Furthermore,
The present study is the first to demonstrate successful faking in the IAT when participants perform an IAT for the first time during an experimental session. One explanation for this apparent discrepancy is that we focussed on novel attitudes whereas previous studies looked at overlearned attitudes and associations. It could be that it is easier to fake novel attitudes because it is not necessary to counteract well-established existing attitudes toward those same attitude objects. However, before strong conclusions can be drawn about this issue, new studies are needed in which faking attitudes toward novel and familiar attitude objects are compared directly.
Granted, it's preferable that IAT-takers are naïve to the purposes of the study, which is why "Bones & Johnson" (2007) lamented the fact that
the population of new participants available to take IATs will expire by the year 2023. Shrill, doomsday proposals from IAT experts involve rationing the precious pool of remaining IAT novices or other naive strategies. ... Building on our prior experience of adapting the IAT for measuring infant cognition and rooting out aliens among us, we demonstrate that new pools of participant resources—the unborn and passed on—are available, if we take the time to develop the methods to exploit them.
But if one is fully cognizant of the true purpose of any IAT, does that render your results invalid, since the test is not immune to manipulation? What do the experts say about that? Here's Brian A. Nosek in The Bias Finders (Bower, 2006):
Several investigations suggest that it's difficult to initially manipulate one's IAT score. However, people who take the IAT many times or who receive explicit cheating instructions can fake their scores. "I've taken the IAT so many times that I know how to get any score I want to on it," Nosek says.
Wah! I'm not so SPECIAL, after all (even though my prior IAT tally for all of the 21st century is 10 at most [not 100] -- and zero in the last few years). At any rate, I'm not a social psychologist, so I was was initially unaware of the [nearly] true extent of this edict:
With the Association for Psychological Science's new ethical standards requiring that all research studies include an Implicit Association Test (IAT)...
...but really, any issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology has at least 5 articles using some IAT or another! Everybody loves the IAT! Or not (see Criticism and controversy). According to Mixing Memory:
While the IAT has been publicized (by its authors!) as a measure of implicit attitudes, and even more, as a measure of implicit prejudice, there is no real evidence that it measures attitudes, much less prejudices. In fact, it's not at all clear what it measures, though the fact that its psychometric properties are pretty well defined at least implies that it measures something. On top of that, the IAT (like all of the other implicit tests) has serious methodological flaws that are currently being discussed in the literature. It's just irresponsible to publicize work, and claim that it does something very particular, when the work is still in the early stages and it's not at all clear what it's actually doing...
Welcome to "The Disturbing World of Implicit Bias..."


Bones AK, Johnson NR. (2007). Measuring the immeasurable: Or "Could Abraham Lincoln Take the Implicit Association Test?" Perspectives on Psychological Science 2:406-411.

Bower B. (2006). The bias finders. Science News 169(16):250.

De Houwer J, Beckers T, Moors A. (2007). Novel attitudes can be faked on the Implicit Association Test. J Exp Social Psychol. 43:972-978. [PDF for those without journal access.]

We asked participants to imagine that a researcher would provide them with positive or negative information about fictitious social groups. Half of the participants were asked to act in such a way that they would conform to the expectations of the researcher. The other participants were asked to behave in the manner opposite to what the researcher expected. Participants then completed an IAT designed to measure the newly formed attitudes toward the fictitious social groups. The direction of the IAT effect depended on the faking instructions. The results call for caution when using the IAT to study the development of implicit attitudes.

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At May 19, 2008 4:44 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

The software crashed when it tried to calculate the final answer.

Does that mean I alive, dead or devine? :-)


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