Implicit Environmental Attitudes: Critique and Technique to Promote Awareness

Authors: Thomas L. Wilson & T. Hunter Smith, Bellarmine University, United States of America
Published: August 4, 2017

Citation: Wilson, T. L., & Smith, T. H. (2017). Implicit Environmental Attitudes: Critique and Technique to Promote Awareness. IAFOR Journal of Psychology & the Behavioral Sciences, 3(1).


Attitudes toward the environment are understood in psychological science as the result of separate mental systems, one conscious and the other unconscious, and capable of affecting behavior outside of awareness. For example, the common incongruity between what people say about global sustainability and what they do about the environment has been explicated by the influence of implicit environmental attitudes. This study examined the operational adequacy of the commonly used Implicit Association Test (IAT) by directly asking participants to report their recognition of behavioral influences whilst performing an IAT. An analytic technique of awareness assessment was introduced to improve on traditional post-experimental questioning, by requiring a constrained report that provided introspective access to task-related knowledge in awareness. Results revealed participants were very aware of their IAT response latencies, they accurately recognized IAT features that produced those latencies, and the validity of this awareness predicted their test scores, challenging the claim to attitude effects of which individuals are unaware. Thus, the critical evaluation showed the IAT method to be inadequate as a measure of environmental attitudes that are implicit. Applications of the awareness assessment technique are discussed for evaluating tests of implicit cognition, and for promoting individual mindfulness of one’s own environmental attitude.


implicit attitudes, environment, IAT, consciousness