Implicit attitudes, also referred to as automatic evaluations, are immediate and spontaneous evaluations of objects, groups, or behaviors as being pleasant or unpleasant. They occur unintentionally within a fraction of a second after exposure to the stimulus, preceding any reflective deliberation. Typically, these attitudes are inferred from systematic variations of performance on indirect priming or categorization tasks. Implicit attitudes can collaborate or conflict with more controlled and deliberated explicit attitudes to influence decisions and behaviors. It has been shown that implicit attitudes predict physical activity behavior, but little research has been conducted on implicit attitudes in the context of sport. This entry briefly overviews (a) measurement, (b) attitudinal concordance with explicit attitudes, (c) proposed origins, and (d) proposed consequences of implicit attitudes. Special emphasis is placed on implicit attitudes in the context of physical activity and sport.
Implicit attitudes are typically measured indirectly via performance tasks because self-assessment (self-report) is susceptible to inaccuracy due to people’s lack of awareness or willingness to report their implicit attitudes. The most common methods for implicit attitude assessments are priming procedures or categorization tasks, such as the Implicit Association Tests (IAT). Given the nature of response latency tests, error variability can be easily introduced (e.g., distraction, sneeze, fatigue). This, among other concerns about validity and reliability of the measures, remains an important issue in the field.
Attitudinal Concordance With Explicit Attitudes
Research suggests implicit attitudes are related, but distinct, from explicit attitudes. Implicit attitudes are automatic, efficient, rapid, and goal-independent evaluations that involve the neural circuits of the amygdala and right insula; explicit attitudes are effortful, deliberative, and controlled evaluations that involve areas of the frontal cortex. Explicit attitudes may serve to override or validate implicit attitudes through reflective cost–benefit analyses, especially when ample motivation and opportunity to deliberate is present. Implicit and explicit attitudes typically show weak positive correlations within studies, although the magnitude of the relation differs as a function of the attitude being assessed. For example, implicit and explicit attitudes are largely divergent for socially sensitive topics where impression management may occur, as with racial prejudices, but less divergent for topics toward which people have little motivation to disguise their attitudes, as with preference for flowers. The magnitude of the relation between implicit and explicit attitudes also is a function of study design. Correlations are strongest when there is strong convergence of the conceptual and format structure of the implicit and explicit measures, for example. Implicit and explicit attitudes toward physical activity have been shown to be independent of one another, but little is known about concordance of implicit and explicit attitudes in the context of sport.
The origins of implicit attitudes are not fully understood; however, there is research connecting implicit attitudes to early emotional responses to the stimuli, such as averseness of the first cigarette smoked and to more recently learned affective associations, such as priming associations between valence and object. Implicit attitudes tend to show low or moderate stability across time, supporting the notion that they comprise both trait and state-like components. Although some aspect of implicit attitudes may be resistant to change, it seems that appropriate environmental pairings have potential to counter these learned associations. Most theories propose that implicit attitudes are some manifestation of both early and recent experiences, but it has also been proposed that implicit attitudes represent knowledge of cultural biases, rather than personal attitudes. Very little is understood about the origins of implicit attitudes in the context of physical activity and sport.
Implicit attitudes have been shown to have physiological consequences, such as an elevated heart rate response to stimuli; cognitive consequences, such as phobias and judgments; and behavioral consequences, such as prejudice and consumer and voting behavior. Within an evolutionary context, implicit attitudes have been proposed as a survival strategy to quickly differentiate hostile from friendly stimuli. Favorable implicit attitudes elicit immediate approach behavior, whereas unfavorable implicit attitudes elicit immediate avoidance behavior. Implicit attitudes seem to guide behavior without people’s conscious awareness. Implicit and explicit attitudes have been shown to predict unique portions of variance of the same behavior and to interact to predict behavior. Additionally, a double-dissociative connection between attitudes and behavior has been supported in which implicit and explicit attitudes predict behaviors under different circumstances. Whereas explicit attitudes tend to direct volitional behavior or behavior when people have ample time and resources to deliberate, implicit attitudes tend to direct spontaneous behaviors or behaviors when people are under time pressure, distracted, or unmotivated for reflective deliberation. Physical activity and fitness level have also been shown to be related to implicit attitudes above and beyond explicit motivational constructs. Again, little is known about how implicit attitudes may impact outcomes in the competitive or training contexts of sport.
Implicit attitudes have been shown to influence peoples’ physiology, judgments, and behavior independently of explicit attitudes. It has been established that implicit and explicit attitudes toward physical activity are distinct, and that implicit attitudes predict physical activity behavior; however, little is known about the origins or malleability of these attitudes. Implicit attitudes within the context of sport remain largely uninvestigated. The potential for implicit attitudes to serve as an avenue for physical activity and sport interventions needs to be clarified with future research.
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