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Making sense of ourselves
Making sense of ourselves

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1.3 Tackling social desirability

Not all prejudice measures, however, rely on self-reports and not all measures are equally vulnerable to social desirability pressures. In recent years, psychologists have increasingly distinguished between two kinds of measures of prejudice:

  • Implicit measures are less obtrusive, focusing on responses that are more subtle, spontaneous and difficult to control. They tend to be less affected by social desirability concerns.
  • Explicit measures focus on overt, consciously expressed feelings and beliefs. Responses on such measures are easy to control. They tend to be affected most by social desirability concerns.

The distinction between implicit and explicit measures of prejudice is arguably not best conceived in an ‘either/or’ fashion. The measures are probably better conceived as falling along a continuum.

The figure below presents a continuum of implicit-explicit measures of prejudice. At one pole, we have measures of ‘open discrimination’ such as observations of crude, racist or sexist language and behaviour. At the other pole, we have measures of physiological responses to members of other groups. These might include, for example, neurological indicators of disgust or threat of which a person is entirely unaware (e.g. evidence of activation of the ‘fear centre’ or amygdala in the brain). Between these two extremes fall other measures on this continuum.

Place your cursor over a particular measure and click to see a brief description of each section of the diagram below.

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Figure 2 A continuum of implicit–explicit measures of prejudice
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

At this point, you might want to think about why a given measure has been located on a particular point of the continuum between ‘explicit/easy to control’ and ‘implicit/difficult to control’. (Of course, there are no absolute rules about where a measure should fall.)