Sudden shifts in social identity swiftly shape implicit evaluation

Yi Jenny Xiao, Jay J. Van Bavel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this research, we examine how sudden shifts in social identity can swiftly shape implicit evaluations. According to dual system models of attitudes, implicit attitude change is often slow and insensitive to explicit cues or goals. However, the social identity approach suggests that the intergroup context can shape nearly every aspect of social cognition from explicit preferences to implicit evaluations. In three experiments, we test whether explicit cues about social identity and the intergroup context can swiftly shape implicit evaluations. We find that people quickly develop an implicit preference favoring their in-group relative to the out-group—even when the group assignments are arbitrary. Importantly, this pattern of implicit intergroup bias quickly shifts following subtle changes in the intergroup context. When we frame the two groups as cooperative (vs. competitive), implicit intergroup bias is eliminated. Finally, being switched from one minimal group to the other reverses implicit intergroup bias, leading people to favor their new in-group (and former out-group). Individual differences in the degree to which people readily switch their implicit intergroup preference are correlated with their need to belong. In sum, these studies provide evidence that social identity cues and goals rapidly tune implicit evaluation. This research not only speaks to the influence of social identity on implicit cognition, but also has implications for models of attitude development and change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)55-69
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
StatePublished - Jul 2019


  • Attitudes
  • Competition
  • Evaluation
  • Groups
  • Social identity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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