Shifting Attitudes – part 1

AttitudesHow we treat someone is rooted in early social experiences and is embedded in our attitudes.

Researchers define two types of attitudes, explicit (self-reported) and  implicit(less accessible and automatic). For example, an individual might self-report that they are comfortable being around the elderly. However, implicit bias, which is more automatic and less accessible, towards the elderly shows up when we need to make quick decisions about where to sit on public transit. Implicit bias is what an objective third party sees in the choices we make.

Researchers agree that implicit bias is more resistant to change. At the age of 6, children’s implicit and explicit bias is about the same. Children will say they don’t like someone and will make choices that express that attitude. However as we grow older there tends to be an asymmetrical relationship between the two types of attitudes. Implicit bias remains constant while explicit bias decreases over time.

Summary of some research on implicit and explicit attitudes

  1. Studies dealing with the elderly have shown that intergroup contact can affect both explicit and implicit bias (Tam, Hewstone, Harwood, Voci, & Kenworthy, 2006).
  2. Fewer implicit prejudices have been found in children who are close friends with children from different ethnic groups, opposed to children with no such contact (Aberson, Shoemaker, & Tomolillo, 2004).
  3. Opportunities to build friendships with members of another group increases positive attitudes of the group for children and high school students


Aberson, C. L., Shoemaker, C.,& Tomolillo, C. (2004). Implicit bias and contact: The role of interethnic friendships. Journal of Social Psychology, 144, 335–347.

Tam, T., Hewstone, M., Harwood, J., Voci, A.,& Kenworthy, J. B. (2006). Intergroup contact and grandparent-grandchild communication : The effects of self disclosure on implicit and explicit biases against older people. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 9, 413–430.