What is the Implicit Association Test in Market Research?

(String: https://www.quantilope.com/hubfs/optimized-compressed-images/MRX%20Glsosary_Implicit.jpg)
mrx glossary implicit association

This post covers how the Implicit Association Test can reveal underlying, or subconscious, consumer attitudes toward categories, brands, and communications.




Table of Contents: 




What is the Implicit Association Test?

The Implicit Association Test is a means of uncovering subconscious attitudes that consumers have toward a brand or experience - even ones they'd otherwise find hard to put into words. Consumers naturally have implicit attitudes or associations toward most things in life, and those associations can be difficult to express because they are subconscious thoughts rather than easy to explain using rational thinking.

For example, Apple pie is implicitly comforting for many, while the idea of eating a bug makes most squirm (even if they haven‘t tried one). Similarly, places conjure up different implicit associations - the relaxation of an island getaway, the romance of Paris, or the fond emotions associated with your grandparents’ home.


Associations and attitudes stem from many places and experiences. Media and advertising build certain stories around products and brands, which are subsequently adopted on a mass scale by consumers: the magic of Disney, the fun of McDonald’s, the reliability of Scotch tape. Other associations develop through lived experiences, often ingrained from childhood - the familiarity of a potato chip brand eaten on picnics or the smell of the laundry detergent your parents always used.


However, when researching these associations, respondents can find it difficult to put them into words. They can have an implicit preference for one thing and feel repelled by another - but can’t say exactly why.


The Implicit Association Test (IAT) is a way of uncovering those subconscious associations and establishing the root of consumer beliefs and responses.

Back to Table of Contents



How does the Implicit Association Test work?

An Implicit Association Test asks respondents to pair a stimulus such as an object, person, or concept with an attribute. Crucial to the process is the rapid response time; respondents are asked to pair them as quickly as possible so that they don’t have enough time to rationalize or overthink their answers. This ensures that the associations represent a consumer's true subconscious rather than thought-out (explicit) responses that can differ wildly from gut instincts.

For example, if respondents were being asked what makes them like a brand, socially acceptable answers, like being environmentally friendly, may be rated as more important than items that could be perceived as more self-serving, like helping a person express themselves. However, because implicit methods factor in subconscious associations and preferences, an implicit test may find that those elements that more closely link a brand to an individual are more meaningful than socially acceptable elements. 

One of the fundamental principles of the IAT is that the faster a respondent makes an association, the stronger that association is.

Learn more about quantilope's Implicit Association Test: 

Implicit webinar

Back to Table of Contents


Single Association Test (SAT) 

The Single Association Test is an implicit measure used to uncover subconscious associations toward a single category, brand, or product.


For example, you might want to research which emotions your TV advertising concept evokes in a viewer. Respondents would be shown the advertising concept, then (within a certain timeframe) asked to pick words that fit with the concept as well as those that do not. Words might include ‘joyful’, ‘depressing’, ‘uplifting’, ‘inspirational’, ‘confusing’, and so on.

Back to Table of Contents


Multiple Association Test (MAT) 

The Multiple Association Test works in a similar way to the SAT, but the difference is that respondents are asked to choose from a list of several brands, categories, or concepts, which best fit with certain attributes. Continuing with the example above, respondents would be shown two or more advertising concepts. The IAT scores then determine which of the possible iterations is most uplifting, confusing, joyful, and so on.

Back to Table of Contents


Implicit Association Test Example 

Let's now explore another example of an Implicit Association Test in detail. Say you’re a peanut butter brand that wants to shift its brand positioning. While your brand is perceived as being excellent value for money and a 'fun' brand for kids, you’d like to move it towards a more wholesome and healthy lifestyle positioning. As part of your marketing strategy, you're tasked to come up with five different logos that could fulfill this plan.


A Multiple Implicit Association Test would test the five logos, asking respondents to decide quickly whether they would or would not allocate certain attributes to each of the logos. As part of the test, you'd ask respondents whether they associate each logo iteration with attributes like ‘wholesome’, ‘healthy’, ‘fun’, ‘tasty’, ‘versatile’, ‘cheap’, ‘expensive’, and ‘unique’.


Findings from this test would reveal which logos best communicate the desired positioning to help shape consumer perceptions.

Back to Table of Contents



Advantages of the Implicit Association Test for market research

The IAT is an idea that was first researched in the 80s by social psychology researchers Anthony Greenwald of Washington University and Mahzarin Banaji of Harvard University. Together with Brian Nosek of Virginia University, they founded Project Implicit, an organization dedicated to researching implicit associations and how these correlate with attitudes and behavior. They observed that if people weren’t aware of these implicit tendencies in their thinking, they couldn’t express them via traditional self-reporting survey methods that ask them to state their beliefs. They also found that certain research biases such as social desirability bias (wanting to give a socially acceptable answer to a question) and acquiescence bias (agreeing with the interviewer or other respondents) could mask true associations.


The advantage of an IAT is that any such research biases are eliminated. IATs are conducted online by an individual, so privacy is optimized; there’s no chance of being judged by a researcher, nor being influenced by others’ opinions. The time limit imposed on answering a question is the key to accessing gut reactions rather than explicit attitudes (rationalized responses), as well as uncovering attitudes that people don’t even realize they possess.

Back to Table of Contents


When to use the Implicit Association Test

We know from research that the majority of purchase decisions - especially those made frequently - are made on gut instinct rather than a thorough rationalization of price versus benefits. Prior experience and associations with products or brands act as shortcuts to the choice being made. It’s therefore valuable for marketing teams and brand managers to know which implicit attitudes consumers have in relation to their category and product.


Some areas in which IATs are useful are:

  • Brand Image: Which traits and emotions are associated with a brand?
  • Communications: How do messages resonate with consumers?
  • Product Features: Which features are thought to be most relevant or necessary?
  • Package Design: Which emotions does a package evoke and how well does it chime with brand image associations?
  • Competitive Landscape: Which associations does a brand evoke versus its competitors?

Back to Table of Contents



An IAT measures the strength of association between concepts and traits by analyzing the reaction time in which a choice is made as well as the IAT scores by respondent type. Knowing how implicit associations relate to consumer behavior and decision-making means brands can optimize the more motivating characteristics of their offer to make it relevant to their target market.


quantilope offers both Single and Multiple Association Tests, both fully automated for simple and high-quality online data collection. quantilope’s intuitive online survey dashboard allows you to present the IAT findings in a clear style with the option to filter down the data to various respondent groups to see how perceptions differ among different consumers. 


To learn more about Implicit Association Tests and how you can leverage this type of advanced research for your own business need, get in touch below:

Get in touch to learn more about implicit association testing!

Related Posts

What Are Quantitative Survey Questions? Types and Examples
Read More
Soda: A Seasonal Drink? Explore Three Waves of Brand Health Tracking
Read More
Ad Copy Testing Surveys: Example Questions and Use Cases
Read More
quantilope Ranks Among GRIT's 2023 Top 10 Most Innovative Suppliers
Read More