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Unconscious Cognitive Associations

Hillary G's picture

       In my Cognition class we recently had to take Implicit Association Tests (IAT), which examine participants’ unconscious beliefs/attitudes by measuring their reaction time using word/image associations with categories. There are several association tests, some of which include Sexuality (measuring one’s preference toward gay people vs. straight people), Gender – Science (measuring associations between gender and preference for science vs. liberal arts), Age (young vs. old), and Race (light-skinned vs. dark-skinned).


        The theory behind the IAT is that categories are deeply embedded within our unconscious. Our brain is naturally inclined to create associations between categories and concepts. This is particularly relevant to the topic of gender diversity, being that the categories of “male” and “female” are very broad and vary between cultures. People often have a hard time re-constructing these categories when they are placed in situations where they must do so (for example, when interacting with a transgendered person). Attempting to alter established categories often creates a kind of cognitive dissonance that makes people feel uncomfortable. But the question is, how do these unconscious associations affect our conscious attitudes and beliefs?


Here is the link to the IAT tests:

(Click “Demonstration,” then “Go to Demonstration tests”, then “I wish to proceed.)

Here is another interesting link that discusses unconscious category-making (also from my Cognition professor):



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