In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Implicit Attitudes in Public Opinion

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Classic Articles on Measuring Implicit Attitudes and Related Responses
  • Relationships between Implicit and Explicit Attitudes
  • Neurological Insights into Implicit Attitudes

Political Science Implicit Attitudes in Public Opinion
Efrén O. Pérez
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 September 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0208


Implicit attitudes are automatic evaluations of objects: political candidates and parties, racial and ethnic groups, national symbols and consumer products, and so on. These responses are spontaneously triggered and hard to control, and can operate subconsciously. Implicit attitudes stand in contradistinction to their explicit variety: self-reported attitudes that people actively direct, control, and are conscious of. Public-opinion scholars have overwhelmingly centered on explicit attitudes, painting a portrait of mass opinion formation as slow, deliberative, and often dispassionate. But psychological research since the late 1970s has agglomerated into the view that much of people’s thinking is fast, automatic, and affectively charged—in a word, implicit. Heaped onto all this is the critical insight that implicit attitudes precede, and many times structure, their explicit counterparts. The implications for the study of public opinion are manifold. This article brings some order to all this by familiarizing readers with the conceptualization, measurement, and analysis of implicit attitudes in American public opinion.

General Overviews

First trickling in the late 1970s, then surging in the 1990s, several tributaries of research on implicit attitudes have sprung forth. These have cascaded into a deep and wide sea of accumulated discoveries about the implicit attitudes we all possess. Some researchers have channeled many of these results into works that broadly analyze the conceptualization, measurement, and application of implicit attitudes to social and political questions (Bargh 2007; Wittenbrink and Schwarz 2007; Petty, et al. 2009; Banaji and Heiphetz 2010; Gawronski and Payne 2010; Banaji and Greenwald 2013; Ksiazkiewicz and Hedrick 2013; Pérez 2013; Gawronski, et al. 2015), all of which are informative overviews of implicit attitudes along these lines.

  • Banaji, Mahzarin R., and Anthony G. Greenwald. Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People. New York: Delacorte, 2013.

    A highly accessible book on implicit attitudes and the Implicit Association Test (IAT), written for a popular audience by two psychologists who pioneered the study of this phenomenon.

  • Banaji, Mahzarin R., and Larisa Heiphetz. “Attitudes.” In Handbook of Social Psychology. Vol. 1. 5th ed. Edited by Susan T. Fiske, Daniel T. Gilbert, and Gardner Lindzey, 353–393. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2010.

    A concise look at the conceptualization of “attitudes” and its evolution since the late 20th century, especially with respect to their implicit manifestations.

  • Bargh, John A., ed. Social Psychology and the Unconscious: The Automaticity of Higher Mental Processes. Frontiers of Social Psychology. New York: Psychology Press, 2007.

    Implicit attitudes are distinguished by high degrees of automaticity. This volume examines automatic psychological processes in domains such as person perception, evaluation, and stereotyping.

  • Gawronski, Bertram, Silvia Galdi, and Luciano Arcuri. “What Can Political Psychology Learn from Implicit Measures? Empirical Evidence and New Directions.” Political Psychology 36.1 (2015): 1–17.

    DOI: 10.1111/pops.12094

    A crisp review article emphasizing the promise of implicit-attitude measures for studying political preferences and political information processing.

  • Gawronski, Bertram, and B. Keith Payne, eds. Handbook of Implicit Social Cognition: Measurement, Theory, and Applications. New York: Guilford, 2010.

    An impressive collection of cutting-edge reviews on key findings, theories, and applications of implicit attitudes, all identifying unanswered questions and pointing to future research directions.

  • Ksiazkiewicz, Aleksander, and James Hedrick. “An Introduction to Implicit Attitudes in Political Science Research.” PS: Political Science & Politics 46.3 (2013): 525–531.

    An introductory article capping a collection of short essays on implicit attitudes and political science, it lays bare some implications of the former for the latter.

  • Pérez, Efrén O. “Implicit Attitudes: Meaning, Measurement, and Synergy with Political Science.” Politics, Groups, and Identities 1.2 (2013): 275–297.

    DOI: 10.1080/21565503.2013.785958

    The first political-science review to examine the conceptualization of implicit attitudes, the mechanics of implicit-attitude measures, and theoretical implications for implicit political attitudes.

  • Petty, Richard E., Russell H. Fazio, and Pablo Briñol, eds. Attitudes: Insights from the New Implicit Measures. New York: Psychology Press, 2009.

    Engages major issues concerning implicit attitudes, including implicit-explicit attitude relations and alternate measures of implicit attitudes such as the Affect Misattribution Procedure (AMP).

  • Wittenbrink, Bernd, and Norbert Schwarz, eds. Implicit Measures of Attitudes. New York: Guilford, 2007.

    Implicit attitudes demand non-self-reported measures. This book explores the mechanics, strengths, and limitations of several implicit attitude measures, such as the Implicit Association Test (IAT).

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