How would you feel if I told you that we all have automated preferences that affect how we see, think, and respond to the world around us? What if most people aren’t even aware of these preferences, how they impact their lives, or how these preferences are formed? The proper term for these automated preferences are “implicit attitudes” but are more commonly referred to as intuition.
Before moving on, let’s define these terms so that we have a mutual understanding. Intuition is defined as a feeling that guides a person to act a certain way without fully understanding why and “an attitude is an an assessment of whether something is good or bad, positive or negative, pleasant or unpleasant.” Furthermore, “implicit attitudes” are subconscious, unidentified feelings, thoughts or actions towards others. This video below is a prime example of an implicit association affecting someone’s action towards others.
As soon as the man walks into the elevator, the woman clutched her purse. Another example would be crossing the road when a homeless person is walking towards you. These actions can happen without conscious thought or evaluation. The person may feel uncomfortable and simply respond to the situation around them or feelings they are having. It’s important to understand that people can have implicit attitudes that are in direct conflict with their explicit attitudes (values, beliefs and assessments of the world), these conflicts are called dissociations.
We all have dissociations and neither implicit nor explicit attitudes are absolute. Implicit and explicit attitudes both play a role in guiding our behaviors. However, there are certain situations where one attitude can influence someone’s behavior more than the other. For example, let’s say you’re nearing the end of a 12 hour shift. You may be overly tired or you are busy trying to knock out the finishing touches on a project you have been working really hard on. In these types of instances, you are more likely to rely on implicit attitude because your brain is tired or busy. With that being said, we have multiple ways of expressing our attitudes, and the two biggest factors that determine which attitude will have the most influence on us are social circumstances and the individuals current state (tired, preoccupied, etc).
So what does this have to do with self defense? Before I answer this, take this quick implicit association test (IAT). Click the link. Click “I wish to proceed,” and select the weapons test.
How did your results differ from your explicit attitudes?
Most everyone involved in self defense, security, or law enforcement will say something along the lines of trust your intuition, instincts, gut feeling, or some other variation of the phrase. I don’t like to say trust. I prefer the term follow. If you trust your intuition, you may be mislead by running on inaccurate implicit associations. Since you are trusting what you feel, you may believe your actions were appropriate and leave it at that. If you were wrong, you just added another inaccurate file to your memory bank to pull from later. However, by following your intuition, you are still being proactive in your safety. The main difference between the two is since you aren’t blindly trusting your intuition, you will need to evaluate exactly why you felt the way you did, after the fact. This introspection will help you fine tune your intuition and quantify what made you feel uncomfortable, unsafe, or whatever feeling you had in that moment.
There is a lot of on-going research about implicit associations, but the general consensus is that we form these early in life and they remain relatively stable throughout our lives. However, it has been shown that we will show flexibility in these associations, and our associations can vary from moment to moment based on the current social context. For example, here are my latest results.
This is much different than the first time I took the weapons IAT. The results from my first test showed that I had associated weapons with white faces. At the time, I was studying a compendium of assassination attempts, which happen to consist of mostly white males.
Another example of flexibility in our associations is demonstrated in a study on crime alerts. In several experiments, the study found that introducing a single word about the race of the suspect can alter how others see the entire race, both implicitly and explicitly. Think about how often stories in the media give general physical characteristics (height 5’7”- 5’11” and weight 150-170lbs) but focus on race. How do you think this affects the general public?
Advertisers also try to play on our implicit associations to help sell products. Take this Visa commercial for example.
By using a narrator whose voice is appealing to our ears, by being smooth and recognizable (Morgan Freeman), they hope to bring up positive feelings through our subconscious that become associated with their product.
The same crime alert study found that even if the crime scenario and perpetrator were completely fictional and only imagined by participants, their implicit attitudes were still affected. That translates directly to Hollywood through movies and television. Villains have been consistently portrayed in a stereotypical manner with certain physical characteristics. This doesn’t necessarily transfer to real life but still can have an impact on our sub-conscious and how we see people in our world. Here are two villains from the James Bond films:
Two defining characteristics are the glass eyes and facial scars. Here is a photo of one of my personal heroes, Marine and Medal of Honor recipient Kyle Carpenter.
His appearance is similar to the two villains, but his character is quite the opposite. Unfortunately, there are people who will judge him on his appearance and cover their purse or cross the street when he approaches (ironically, they would be safer with his presence). This is especially likely if that individual just watched one of the Bond films. This brings me to the main idea of this post. When assessing individuals, we need to use tools that can substantiate who is a threat and why they may be a threat, rather than relying on what a person looks like, the tattoos they have, or the clothes they are wearing. Although, these characteristics do play a role in analysis (iconography) we can not use this as the sole source of information in assessing an individual.
The solution? Create informed awareness. Which is understanding what to look for and how to look for it. I’ve talked about this in several other posts. If you missed those start here, then follow the related posts at the bottom.
This post is really just the basics. I’ll be sending out some resources later this week on behavioral analysis via The Intel Brief. I’m also working on a series of videos to help breakdown some of this information and expand on these concepts. So stay tuned for that as well.
I’ll leave you with these two questions: Have you created informed awareness for yourself? If not, why do you trust your intuition?
1 Intuition. (n.d.). Retrieved August 15, 2015, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/intuition
2/4 Nosek, B. A., & Banaji, M. R. (2009). Implicit attitude. In P. Wilken, T. Bayne, & A. Cleeremans (Eds.), Oxford Companion to Consciousness (pp. 84-85). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
3/5/6 Akalis, S. A., Banaji, M. R., & Kosslyn, S. M. (2008). Crime alert!: How thinking about a single suspect automatically shifts stereotypes toward an entire group. Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, 5, 217-233.