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Psychological test of unconscious candidate preference shows surprising results

A recently created website that measures candidate preferences reveals a lack of association between respondents' conscious and unconscious preferences. The website, created by investigators at Yale University and the University of Washington, shows that test takers have a conscious preference for Democrat Bill Bradley and Republican John McCain. However, a test of respondents' unconscious leanings reveals that they show the opposite implicit preference - a preference for Democrat Al Gore and Republican George Bush. "These results are intriguing because of the discrepancy between conscious and unconscious preferences," said Yale Psychology Professor Mahzarin Banaji. The website, which opened on Nov. 7, 1999, has logged a total of more than 2,400 tests comparing various pairs of candidates. The same website, created by Banaji, Brian Nosek, a graduate student at Yale, and Anthony Greenwald, professor of psychology at the University of Washington, also measures explicit and implicit biases about race, gender and age. The measure of voters' explicit, or, conscious, attitudes shows Republicans favoring McCain over Bush 45 percent to 31 percent. Democrats in the same measure showed a preference for Bradley - 43 percent to 28 percent. The measure of unconscious preference, however, differs: voters favored Bush over McCain 41 percent to 24 percent and Gore over Bradley 42 percent to 28 percent. In taking the online test, respondents are first asked to state their conscious preference for one of two candidates within a pair that the respondent had selected for comparison, for example, Bush vs. McCain, Bradley vs. Gore. Respondents also were asked to report party affiliation as Republican, Democrat or independent. Each respondent then completed a test designed to measure unconscious preference, using a technique in which speed to associate pleasant and unpleasant items with candidates' names and faces was measured. "Preferences for candidates from opposing parties are consistent with our expectation - on both conscious and unconscious measures of preference Republicans favor Republican candidates over Democratic candidates and Democrats show the expected reverse pattern," Banaji said. But why the discrepancy between conscious and unconscious preferences? The investigators believe that conscious preferences reflect the attitudes, beliefs and values one can explicitly articulate. Unconscious, or implicit attitudes, on the other hand, may reflect more subtle influences, such as a candidate's fame and visibility, family name, and other factors that are not available to conscious awareness. Banaji and Greenwald said it remains to be seen which attitude - conscious or unconscious - reflects what voters will actually do when it is time to cast their ballots. ### To take the Yale-UW test you may visit: or For more information contact: Greenwald at or by telephone in Cambridge, Mass., through March 4 at (617) 661-6176 and afterwards in Seattle at (206) 543-7227. Banaji at or (203) 432-4547.