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EASP – European Association of Social Psychology

Travel Grant Report by Brian O'Shea

02.01.2017, by Sibylle Classen in grant report

University of Warwick, UK; Visit to Harvard University, University of Florida and the Jost lab at New York University, US


Brian O’Shea (BA:NUIG, MSc:LSE) is a PhD Candidate at the University of Warwick, studying Social Experimental Psychology. He was awarded an EASP Travel Grant to visit Project Implicit (Harvard University & University of Florida) and the Jost lab at NYU. The visit allowed him to develop his new measures of implicit attitudes (Simple Implicit Procedure & Spatial Association Task) to run online. He ran a number of studies testing these measuring as well as carried out experiments to address which implicit measures have practice effect limitations. Practice effects are a major problem for measures of implicit attitudes because generally the magnitude of an individual’s bias weakens over time. He also assisted in writing a paper which was submitted to “Applied Psychology.”

Full Report

The European Association of Social Psychology (EASP) travel grant enabled me to build strong collaborative links with major research institutions closely related to my research area as well as further validate and advance our understanding of measures of implicit attitudes. Initially, I spent a week at Harvard University where I gave an hour presentation to Professor Mahzarin Banaji’s Social Cognition lab, followed by questions for over thirty minutes. The lab commended my research and Professor Banaji was keen for me to get the Simple Implicit Procedure (SIP) running on the Project Implicit (PI) servers due to its novel way of estimating unconscious/implicit biases. A post-doctorate in the Lab (Dr Maddalena Marini) also wants to work with me on using the SIP to address the precise mechanisms behind gender biases in STEM subjects. I also presented my research on disease rates increasing racial prejudice across the US and the world to Jim Sidanius’s lab while I was at Harvard.

Following Harvard, I went to New York University to present my research to the Jost lab (Professor John Jost) on how bankers show strong system-justifying biases compared to Occupy St Paul’s protesters. I also presented my research on parasite stress to the Jost lab. One of the graduate students (Melanie Langer) is also planning on using the SIP in her research.

The University of Florida was the third university I visited, where I spent almost two and a half months in Dr Kate Ratliff’s (Director of Project Implicit) Attitudes and Social Cognition lab. I also worked with Dr Colin Smith (Direction of Education at Project Implicit). I attended weekly lab meetings at both Kate’s and Colin’s labs. I presented three 1 hour presentations to the department, as well as smaller presentations at the lab meetings.

While at Project Implicit, I had full access to their online system and their extensive databases. This access will remain while I am back in the UK which will be a huge benefit to my career. I learned how to program online reaction time tasks using the PI interface. Since PI has recently adopted a new coding system, I programmed the Single-Target (ST) IAT and the Go/No-Go Association (GNAT) for other PI researchers to use. I also programmed the Spatial Association Task (SAT). Unfortunately, I did not get to completely code up the online version of the Simple Implicit Procedure (SIP), but I still will have access to PI while I am in the UK to finish off the task.

I carried out many experiments while at UF. Using the Spatial Association Task (SAT) which uses screen location to predict implicit social cognition, I assessed biases participants had towards people of different weights (fat & thin) as well as response biases towards facial expressions (happy, angry, neutral, disgust). Overall, the results were in line with expectations such that people responded faster to more negative images. However, although the correlations between explicit and implicit attitudes were in the expected direction, generally non-significant results were found. Furthermore, the finding that participants responded extremely fast to positive facial expressions (i.e., happy) relative to negative ones (i.e., disgust) means the task cannot be used to measure valence. Evidence indicates that the SAT instead measures the salience or how socially relevant an object is. Therefore, a more appropriate name for the SAT would be the Salience Detection Task (SDT) or the Socially Relevant Task (SRT). A new version of the SAT (SAT 2.0) has since been conceptually developed. The new SAT will connect an attitude object with a valence word, much like the IAT, and participants have to respond to these associations based on specific instructions and the screen location. This task will remove the Positive Framing Bias that is apparent in the Implicit Relational Assessment Procedure as well as affirming biases in the SIP. I plan to apply for an individual post-doctoral fellowship to further test and validate these three tasks (SIP, SAT, SDT).

I ran two experiments testing practice effects in implicit measures. The first looked at practice effects in the ST-IAT. Participants had to repeat the Flower-Insect ST-IAT three times (within subject), and participants were randomly assigned to blocks of 20 or 40 trials (between-subject). Strong practice effects were observed in the ST-IAT, and significantly weaker attitudes were shown in the 20 trial blocks compared to the 40 trial blocks due to more task switching. A similar experiment was conducted using the GNAT, and again significantly weaker attitudes were shown when there was more task switching. But of most importance, there was strong evidence using Bayes Factors that the GNAT does not have a practice effect problem. This result means the GNAT could be used for both pre and post intervention designs. I aim to test the SAT 2.0 using this practice effect paradigm, and I expect these results will to get published in a high-impact psychology journal.

I was invited, and I am currently collaborating with PI on a paper that will report all the data gathered through PI over the last ten years. The previous publication has to date received over 500 citations (Nosek, B. A., Smyth, F. L., Hansen, J. J., Devos, T., Lindner, N. M., Ranganath, K. A., ... & Banaji, M. R. (2007). Pervasiveness and correlates of implicit attitudes and stereotypes. European Review of Social Psychology, 18, 36-88). I also was asked to assist in reporting Bayes factors and writing a paper that was submitted to a special issue relating to careless responding and the impact it can have on data quality. We submitted the paper at the end of November and due to the large sample (>500) and replicating our finding it is likely that the paper will get published in the Journal “Applied Psychology”.

I am assisting on a project addressing if disease primes can increase attitude generalisation/stereotyping. I have also been given the opportunity to manage and update the Irish and UK PI online virtual laboratory. Through this, I can address the influence of culturally pivotal transitions such as the general population's implicit attitudes to political candidates/parties as well as changing views towards Brexit and the EU.

Overall, this trip has been an immense success, and I have achieved all my goals I was hoping. The continued connection with PI will undoubtedly help my career progress, especially when writing applications for grants in order to acquire funding to answer important cross-cultural research questions.