Partiality. Prejudice. Racism. And this bias is thought
to be all the more insidious because it’s locked away in our subconscious where
we can’t do anything about it.
But as Dr. Aaron Reid explained in his TMRE 2016
presentation Wednesday, implicit bias is not necessarily negative or
‘Implicit bias is simply a systematic tendency toward
something,’ Dr. Reid explained. ‘It’s the automatic associations you have in
your mind, and those associations can be positive and they can be negative.’
Implicit Bias and Behavior
1 certainly influences behavior
, it’s not the only thing that determines
how people act. If we have the motivation and the opportunity, we can
influence whether our System 1 mind impacts our behavior or not.
‘When you have either low motivation or lack the opportunity
to reflect and reason, your implicit attitude has a much stronger impact on
your judgment or behavior,’ said Dr. Reid. ‘But when you’re motivated and have
the opportunity, your System 2 thinking can intervene if you don’t want
an implicit attitude to influence behavior.’
Science provides methods for quantifying implicit
biases, both positive and negative. Sentient
Prime implicit research technology
, for example, can give you a read on
your degree of biases both toward and away from people, from brands, products,
It’s called implicit association testing and it’s a powerful
tool that helps measure the impact of the non-conscious.
Can We Change
Implicit Associations to Be More Inclusive?
In the Spring of 2016, Sentient examined implicit
biases in a study with Smirnoff. The project objective,
born from the mind of Smirnoff’s Luke Atkinson, was to make a real
contribution to the world with the idea of a brand that ‘welcomes everyone’ and
stands for ‘good times together.’
Atkinson wanted to focus on inclusivity.
Opposite the concept of implicit bias, inclusivity
moves people from thinking, ‘How do we prevent or reduce prejudice,’ to ‘How do
we promote inclusivity’? And that positive, welcoming feeling is
what Smirnoff wanted its brand to inspire.
Testing in Action
We captured baseline data in two studies about
inclusivity from 1,400 United Kingdom respondents and 1,300 from the United
States. From there, we could see if the creative content produced by the
Smirnoff brand could actually make people feel more inclusive toward
We utilized implicit and explicit measures from the
behavioral sciences in five comprehensive areas of inclusivity:
Motivation to act inclusively
Inclusive lifestyle choices
Three segments emerged from the data in both the U.S. and
The Isolated: those who feel excluded and act
Excluded Strivers: those who make inclusive
lifestyle choices but feel excluded
Inclusive Included: those who feel included
and also act more inclusively
We were then able to analyze implicit attitudes toward
groups of people’based on race, gender, sexuality, and more’and split the
results by segment. Some of the results were sobering.
‘If you ask people an explicit question like this, you’re
not going to get the real answer,’ Dr. Reid said.
‘But if you measure it implicitly you get really keen
insight: a significant portion of the population has a negative implicit
bias toward ‘old people’, toward ‘poor people’, and toward ‘disabled people’.’
Smirnoff Opens Up to Promote Inclusivity
Based on our baseline data, Smirnoff created an
ad targeted at changing attitudes toward disabled people.
Smirnoff was proud of the creative. But would it have a real
Sentient performed a Subtext’ ad
to see whether exposure to the ad was changing the implicit
memory structures within Smirnoff’s target audience’s mind. Using consumer
neuroscience tools, we measured the four key components of
Desirability (a combination of System 1 and
Emotional preference following exposure to the ad showed a complete reversal
following a single exposure to that 40-second clip.
‘From a brand preference perspective,’ Dr. Reid noted, ‘this
is a very successful ad.’
Digging Deeper Into the Data
Emotional memory analysis carried the study a step
further by analyzing which elements of the ad are responsible for the
change in implicit attitude.
‘The implicit memory connections are changing in the
minds of consumers when you show them your ad,’ Dr. Reid explained. ‘We can cut
the data to see the moments of the ad that are related to those
memory changes that you’re trying to affect.’
Among female viewers, there were clear positive
emotional deviations at the moments that the primary female student was telling
her story and began to feel the joy of dancing.
So impact on the brand is clear. What about inclusivity? Did
we strike an impact? Did we change people’s attitudes to feel more inclusive?
Only among women.
‘The storytelling at the beginning of the ad isn’t
resonating in a positive way with men on average, it appears to reinforce a
negative bias toward disabled people among the ‘Isolated’ segment’ noted
Dr. Reid. ‘It provided insight into how to optimize the creative with cuts that
tell the story of the male focal character, Chris Fonseca, in a clear and
compelling way to men.’
For the Isolate segment, what may be missing
is motivation. Opportunity to change their judgment is there, but
without motivation, there’s no override for that System 1 bias.
Next Steps for Smirnoff (and the Rest of Us?)
For its part, Smirnoff is planning a global rollout of the
‘We’re Open campaign.’ The next ad being tested:
Regardless of the results, Smirnoff’s efforts show how it’s
possible for us to address implicit bias in this country and globally. First we
need to understand that System 1 mind’where it comes from’then we can focus on
how to influence change.