Automaticity: Implicit Attitudes

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.

Proposed Origins

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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