(This entry was originally posted in May, 2006)
We’ve discussed implicit attitudes on Cognitive Daily before, but never in the context of food. The standard implicit attitude task asks you to identify items belonging to two different categories. Consider the following lists. Use your mouse to click on items which are either pleasant or related to Genetically Modified foods (GM foods). (Clicking won’t actually do anything, it’s just a way of self-monitoring your progress)
Now with this next list, do the same task, only click on items which are either unpleasant or related to GM foods.
Which task was harder? I’m including a poll below the fold for you to register your results.
If you implicitly have a negative association with GM foods, it should be more difficult for you to identify GM foods while also identifying pleasant things. If you have a positive association with GM foods, then the pleasant task should be easier.
Many surveys have been conducted to measure explicit attitudes about GM foods, but few have looked at implicit attitudes. The explicit results vary by country, with Britain ambivalent, France and Greece (among others) negative, and Spain and Finland (among others) positive.
Alexa Spence and Ellen Townsend conducted a study of implicit attitudes about GM foods in Britain. They argue that it’s important to measure both implicit and explicit attitudes because people tend to behave based on both types of attitudes, not just one or the other. They gave the test in three different contexts: no context, like the task I had you try above, with ordinary foods (e.g. GM foods and ordinary foods were included in the list, along with the pleasant and unpleasant foods), and with organic foods. They used a computer to measure reaction times to the GM foods. Here are the results:
Without a context, participants were significantly quicker when asked to identify GM foods or pleasant things, compared to identifying GM foods or unpleasant things. In the context of both organic foods and ordinary foods, there was no significant difference in reaction times, whether being asked to identify pleasant or unpleasant things along with GM foods.
When asked explicitly about attitudes to GM foods, the response was similar. So, at least in Britain, both implicit and explicit attitudes about GM foods range from positive to ambivalent. Spence and Townsend argue that this means that British consumers would likely be willing to eat GM foods, especially if they were cheaper or better than ordinary foods.
Often people are surprised by the results of implicit attitude tests. For example, many African Americans are surprised to find that they implicitly prefer white people, even if explicitly they claim to regard whites and African Americans equally.
Is this result surprising to you? How did you do on our nonscientific sample test above? Let us know in the comments.
Spence, A., Townsend, E. (2006). Implicit attitudes towards genetically modified (GM) foods: A comparison of context-free and context-dependent evaluations Appetite, 46, 67-74