Capturing unconscious attitudes and associations that are evoked automatically in consumers and can hardly be consciously controlled has become popular in market research. Implicit tests to capture these unconscious processes have been established in academic psychology since many years.
These tests capture attitudes, for instance, towards certain brands in indirect ways, so the purpose of the tasks or questions remains hidden from the respondents. Thus, respondents cannot consciously distort their answers. On the downside, implicit tests usually require relatively high effort and are very time-consuming. For practical applications, simpler alternatives based on response-time analysis of direct questions have been suggested.
In an empirical study we have compared different approaches for capturing attitudes towards brands: (a) the Implicit Association Test (IAT, Greenwald, McGhee & Schwartz, 1998), a thoroughly validated and very popular tool in social psychology, (b) simple yes-no questions with response-time measurement to encourage not strictly implicit, but at least spontaneous answers, and (c) traditional rating scales.
One main result was that the simple response-time measures showed lower reliability and validity than traditional rating scales. At the same time, the response-time measures did not show a higher correlation with the truly implicit tool IAT than the ratings. In conclusion, scientific tools from academic psychology seem to be necessary to reliably capture implicit processes. In light of the effort required, however, their practical application is only advised when the research topic is expected to trigger systematic answer distortions (e.g., due to social desirability).