Clocking the social mind by identifying mental processes in the IAT with electrical neuroimaging

Schiller, Bastian; Gianotti, Lorena R.R.; Baumgartner, Thomas; Nash, Kyle; Koenig, Thomas; Knoch, Daria (2016). Clocking the social mind by identifying mental processes in the IAT with electrical neuroimaging. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America - PNAS, 113(10), pp. 2786-2791. National Academy of Sciences NAS 10.1073/pnas.1515828113

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Why do people take longer to associate the word “love” with outgroup words (incongruent condition) than with ingroup words (congruent condition)? Despite the widespread use of the implicit association test (IAT), it has remained unclear whether this IAT effect is due to additional mental processes in the incongruent condition, or due to longer duration of the same processes. Here, we addressed this previously insoluble issue by assessing the spatiotemporal evolution of brain electrical activity in 83 participants. From stimulus presentation until response production, we identified seven processes. Crucially, all seven processes occurred in the same temporal sequence in both conditions, but participants needed more time to perform one early occurring process (perceptual processing) and one late occurring process (implementing cognitive control to select the motor response) in the incongruent compared with the congruent condition. We also found that the latter process contributed to individual differences in implicit bias. These results advance understanding of the neural mechanics of response time differences in the IAT: They speak against theories that explain the IAT effect as due to additional processes in the incongruent condition and speak in favor of theories that assume a longer duration of specific processes in the incongruent condition. More broadly, our data analysis approach illustrates the potential of electrical neuroimaging to illuminate the temporal organization of mental processes involved in social cognition.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


04 Faculty of Medicine > University Psychiatric Services > University Hospital of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy > Psychiatric Neurophysiology [discontinued]
07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology > Social Neuroscience and Social Psychology
10 Strategic Research Centers > Center for Cognition, Learning and Memory (CCLM)

UniBE Contributor:

Gianotti, Lorena, Baumgartner, Thomas, Nash, Kyle Andrew, König, Thomas, Knoch, Daria


100 Philosophy > 150 Psychology




National Academy of Sciences NAS




Lorena Gianotti

Date Deposited:

16 Mar 2016 12:37

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:53

Publisher DOI:





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