In this post, Sophie Stammers, Research Fellow on Project PERFECT at the University of Birmingham, introduces her article, “A Patchier Picture Still: Biases, Beliefs and Overlap on the Inferential Continuum” recently published Open Access at Philosophia.
‘Implicit’ is a designation that does a lot of work in the philosophy and cognitive science of thoughts. This follows many decades of research which demonstrates that human minds don’t always behave in ways that many of have expected them to. For instance, people (a) sometimes appear to be unaware of factors which influence their decisions; or (b) they often think or do things in spite of evidence to the contrary, or fail to think or do things in spite of evidence in favour; or (c) people think or do things automatically, without having deliberated first; or (d) they think or do things in spite of sincerely disavowing the thinking or doing of these things – or, all of (a)-(d) at once.
Many theorists have made sense of these results by proposing that the human mind is comprised of two systems: the explicit system handles the conscious, rational, deliberate and avowed processes that we expect to be engaged in, whilst the implicit system is behind the above findings (Kahneman 2011).
The success of our explanations and predictions of cognition depend on whether we’re right to posit a second system with distinctive characteristics. So too do our conceptions of what it is to be a person, and how we should think about interpersonal interactions involving these supposedly distinct systems. For instance, if the implicit system produces cognitions or behaviours that aren’t identified with the agent, then we shouldn’t judge interactions driven by it as agential. But if that’s not the case, then maybe those judgements are back on the table.
Characteristics (a)-(d) each deserve attention, but for now, let’s look just at (b). Some psychologists (e.g. Gawronski and Bodenhausen 2014) have explained evidence for (b) by proposing that attitudes are differently structured: explicit attitudes are structured propositions, processed in accordance with their semantic content, whilst implicit attitudes are mere associations between concepts and are processed regardless of information about their constituent concepts. These latter attitudes don’t respond to evidence.
Contra this view, Eric Mandelbaum (2016) summarizes a range of findings purporting to show that implicit attitudes are in fact sensitive to content, proposing they are structured propositions after all. But can this explain findings that many other implicit attitudes fail to respond appropriately to content?