Unconscious thought and stereotypes: how posteriori stereotype activation biases unconscious thought
Reiter, Lucca Aleksandr
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Unconscious Thought Theory (UTT) proposes that people can actively process goal-relevant information when they are distracted from consciously thinking about it (Dijksterhuis & Nordgren, 2006). Further, unconscious thought (UT) is purported to process the information in an aschematic bottom-up manner (Bos, Dijksterhuis, & van Baaren, 2008). Supporting this claim is experimental evidence that UT is less susceptible to stereotype use compared to the top-down schema-driven process of conscious thought (CT; Bos & Dijksterhuis, 2011). Based on these findings, UTT has proposed that UT does not utilize stereotypes when forming impressions. However, other research suggests that participants may form biased impressions in experimental contexts arguably suitable to the operation of UT if a stereotype is non-consciously activated during distraction periods following information acquisition (van Knippenberg & Dijksterhuis, 1996). Further, goal-relevant information is actively integrated during UT, therefore stereotype activation during UT could lead to more biased impressions compared to conditions where negligible thinking occurs. The aim of this thesis was to compare how the active processes of UT and the passive process of being merely distracted are differentially impacted by stereotype activation. In the present experiment, participants were presented with information about a hypothetical person, 'Person 1,' some of which implied traits that are consistent and inconsistent with the stereotype of African-American men. Then, they either received an evaluation goal (UT) or no goal (MD) prior to being distracted for 3min. During distraction, some participants were primed with the stereotype of African- American men. Then, accessibility of the stereotype-consistent and inconsistent traits were measured using a lexical decision task (LDT). Lastly, participants provided their impressions' of 'Person 1' on various trait dimensions. Results supported the hypotheses that among participants in UT conditions, stereotype activation inhibited the accessibility of stereotype-inconsistent concepts relative to consistent concepts. However, this biased accessibility did not impact impressions of 'Person 1.' Possible limitations, implications, and future directions are discussed.