Neural patterns of the implicit association test

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Abstract

The Implicit Association Test (IAT) is a reaction time based categorization task that measures the differential associative strength between bipolar targets and evaluative attribute concepts as an approach to indexing implicit beliefs or biases. An open question exists as to what exactly the IAT measures, and here EEG (Electroencephalography) has been used to investigate the time course of ERPs (Event-related Potential) indices and implicated brain regions in the IAT. IAT-EEG research identifies a number of early (250-450 ms) negative ERPs indexing early-(pre-response) processing stages of the IAT. ERP activity in this time range is known to index processes related to cognitive control and semantic processing. A central focus of these efforts has been to use IAT-ERPs to delineate the implicit and explicit factors contributing to measured IAT effects. Increasing evidence indicates that cognitive control (and related top-down modulation of attention/perceptual processing) may be components in the effective measurement of IAT effects, as factors such as physical setting or task instruction can change an IAT measurement. In this study we further implicate the role of proactive cognitive control and top-down modulation of attention/perceptual processing in the IAT-EEG. We find statistically significant relationships between D-score (a reaction-time based measure of the IAT-effect) and early ERP-time windows, indicating where more rapid word categorizations driving the IAT effect are present, they are at least partly explainable by neural activity not significantly correlated with the IAT measurement itself. Using LORETA, we identify a number of brain regions driving these ERP-IAT relationships notably involving left-temporal, insular, cingulate, medial frontal and parietal cortex in time regions corresponding to the N2- and P3-related activity. The identified brain regions involved with reduced reaction times on congruent blocks coincide with those of previous studies.

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Healy, G. F., Boran, L., & Smeaton, A. F. (2015). Neural patterns of the implicit association test. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 9(NOV). https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2015.00605

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