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What is IAT (Implicit Association Test) and how does it work?

Which feelings, concepts and images do we instinctively associate with the brands we choose to buy and have trusted for years? An attempt at answering this question is made by an important and effective tool used by neuromarketing: the IAT, or Implicit Association Test, used to observe, analyse and recognise the implicit associations between concepts that we all make at an unconscious level.

This activity determines many of the decisions we make every day but which we are rarely aware of at rational level.

implicit association test

How does the IAT Implicit Association Test work?

IAT is an easy-to-implement tool that reveals important information on what people really feel, emotionally and instinctively, about a brand, a product or a commercial. This tool requires just a computer to be set up.

Stimuli from different categories appear in sequence on the screen, and the person taking part in the IAT has to associate them with other predetermined macro-categories by clicking two buttons. The higher the response rate, the closer the unconscious association between the two categories.

How do implicit associations work?

Our brain is used to unconsciously associating concepts that we would rarely match rationally. These implicit associations can be either positive or negative, and they can have a decisive influence on decision making and the way people make choices, which is why it is important for marketers and companies to recognise and observe them.

The effectiveness of IAT lies in the assumption that associations between two closely but unconsciously connected concepts are faster and that, by taking the test, people make fewer mistakes in associating them. This is due to the two different “cognitive” systems of our brain: System 1, which is naturally automatic, immediate and impulsive, and System 2, which is reflective, rational and conscious. IAT investigates which associations are active and strong below the threshold of rationality, which is why time is so crucial:  the faster a response, the less it will be mediated by the conscious part of the brain.

implicit association test

How is IAT used in neuromarketing?

IAT is an essential tool for neuromarketing, as it allows us to detect dissociations between the results of conventional research techniques: usually, when we fill in questionnaires or tests with explicit preference terms, we respond in a rational and therefore very mediated way.

The fields of application of IAT can be numerous. Implicit associations can be observed when designing an advertising campaign, by analysing the country of origin of a product for example, or by assessing the product, or when choosing a testimonial for a commercial, assessing their appreciation by the potential target audience.