It is not just memory: Propositional thinking influences performance on the autobiographical IAT

Elisabeth Julie Vargo, Andrea Petróczi, Iltaf Shah, Declan P. Naughton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction: The autobiographical Implicit Association Test (aIAT) is a variant of the Implicit Association Test reportedly capable of detecting an individual's concealed autobiographical event with very high accuracy. A previous attempt to utilize this measurement technique for the identification of cocaine users rendered an alarming rate of false positives. In this study, we aimed to explore the potential reasons behind the measurement's inaccuracy. Methods: Two versions of the cocaine aIAT were devised with different category labels (descriptive 'guilty/innocent' and self-referenced 'as if you were/were not'). Forty-one cocaine abstinent participants (43.9% male mean age = 28.17 ± 7.36) were randomly assigned to one of the two conditions. Self-declared cocaine abstinence was confirmed for the 12-month period preceding data collection through hair analysis. Participants were also administered bespoke implicit and explicit cocaine user attitude measures, the self-esteem IAT and the Rosenberg self-esteem scale. Results: The category labels which elicited self-referenced knowledge showed low accuracy (19%) compared to the 65% of the 'guilty/innocent' labels proposed by original authors. The self-referenced aIAT version significantly correlated with the self-concept measures. The aIAT outcomes were independent from attitudes toward cocaine users. Conclusions: Category labels play an influential role in determining the test's accuracy, demonstrating that participants' propositional knowledge and self-concept are involved during test performance. The aIAT does not appear to tap directly into an individual's implicit memory when relevant memory is not available. Although the test cannot be recommended for detecting drug use, further research should investigate underlying mechanisms and other potentials of the technique.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)150-155
Number of pages6
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Attitudes
  • Autobiographical IAT
  • Cocaine
  • Hair
  • Self-concept

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


Dive into the research topics of 'It is not just memory: Propositional thinking influences performance on the autobiographical IAT'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this