So says a recent paper in Science.
We provide evidence that future choices of undecided individuals can be predicted by their current automatic mental associations, even when these individuals consciously report that they are still undecided… Conceptually, automatic mental associations are defined as those associations that come to mind unintentionally, that are difficult to control once they are activated, and that may not necessarily be endorsed at a conscious level. Such automatic associations are often contrasted with consciously held beliefs, which can be described as mental contents that an individual explicitly endorses as accurate. The measurement of automatic associations has been advanced by the development of so-called implicit measures, most of which are based on participants’ performance on computer-based, speeded categorization tasks. These implicit measures differ from explicit measures employed to assess conscious beliefs, which are based on standard self-report or survey methodology.
I’ve taken these tests before. They’re interesting. They basically ask you to match things up, see how long it takes, and assume that time differences reveal implicit assumptions. So for example, they might ask you to “associate” violent objects with blacks and/or whites. And they almost universally find that folks are quicker making associations between such violent objects and blacks than they are with whites. And so it’s argued that this reveals implicit forms of prejudice that are very hard to overcome. You can see the results of these studies on a range of topics, and take the tests yourself at: Project Implicit.
But back to the study: it’s not that people are making up the fact that they’re undecided. Rather, “automatic associations could distort the processing of new information (e.g., by means of selective processing or biased interpretation), such that future decisions that are based on such distorted information will be in line with previously existing automatic associations.” There results are nicely shown in these graphs: