Process dissociation analysis is a resourceful, but simple, analytical technique that is designed to differentiate automatic processes from controlled processes (see Payne, 2001& Payne, Lambert, & Jacoby, 2002). In particular, many procedures, called implicit tasks, have been designed to uncover automatic cognitive processes-that is, cognitive operations that unfold especially rapidly, regardless of the deliberate intentions of individuals. Unfortunately, controlled cognitive processes-that is, cognitive operations that are less rapid and dependent upon the deliberation intentions of individuals-could also affect performance on these tasks.
For example, researchers could use a word completion tasks to assess automatic processes. Perhaps, individuals could receive the stem co- pe-tion. Participants who recognize the word cooperation might be perceived to be cooperative& participants who recognize the word competition might be perceived to be competitive.
Automatic processes might affect responses to this stem. Nevertheless, especially if no answer immediately emerges, controlled processes, such as a deliberate attempt to retrieve words that begin with co, might also shape the answer.
To illustrate the role of process dissociation analysis, consider the study conducted by Stewart and Payne (2008). In this study, some Caucasian participants were told form the intention they will always associate African American faces with the concept of safety. Other participants were told to form the intention to associate African American faces with the concept of accuracy-a control condition.
Subsequently, participants were briefly exposed to a photograph of a face-of either an African American or Caucasian. Next, a picture of an object was presented fleetingly, and participants needed to decide as rapidly as possible whether this object was a gun or tool.
When participants developed an association between the African American face and safety, the subsequent presentation of this face was less likely to bias perceptions of the objects. That is, in contrast to the other participants, these individuals did not tend to assume that an object following the African American face was a gun.
Nevertheless, these findings alone do not necessarily imply that such instructions influence automatic associations between the face and object. That is, although the face and object were presented fleetingly, controlled and deliberate cognition operations might intervene to affect the final response (see Jacoby, 1991& Payne, Jacoby, & Lambert, 2004).
Process dissociation analysis can be undertaken to differentiate controlled processing from automatic processing. Specifically, this technique can dissociate processes that are not influenced by intentions, called automatic, and processes that are influenced by intentions, called controlled.
To illustrate the rationale that underpins process dissociation analysis, consider the previous example. In this study, some of the trials are congruent, in which the African American face is followed by a gun-or the Caucasian face is followed by a tool. In this instance, participants could respond correctly by invoking controlled processes to recognize the object, the probability of which is called C. Alternatively, if participants do not engage in these controlled processes, they could respond correctly by invoking automatic processes-that is, automatic associations between the face and object, derived from conventional stereotypes, the probability of which is called A. Hence:
P (Correct response in these congruent trials) = C + A (1 - C)
Some of the trials are incongruent, in which the African American face is followed by a tool-or the Caucasian face is followed by a gun. In this instance, automatic associations between the face and object, derived from conventional stereotypes, will generate an incorrect response. That is:
P (Incorrect response in these incongruent trials) = A (1 - C)
When these equations are combined, and rearranged.
C = P (Correct response in these congruent trials) - (Incorrect response in these incongruent trials)
Once C is computed, A can be derived from the following equation, also derived from the previous formulas:
A = P (Incorrect response in these incongruent trials) / (1 - C)
Using these formulas, therefore, researchers can derive A for each participant. In this context, A is the probability of applying automatic associations between the face and object. High scores on A indicated a bias towards assuming the object was a gun.
In the study conducted by Stewart and Payne (2008), these estimates of A were higher when the object followed an African American, rather than Caucasian, face. This finding indicates that participants often automatically associated the African American with a gun.
However, this effect diminished in participants who had formed the intention to associate the African American face with the concept of safety. In other words, the intention to suppress stereotypes had offset this automatic stereotype.
Jacoby, L. L. (1991). A process dissociation framework: Separating automatic from intentional uses of memory. Journal of Memory and Language, 30, 513-541.
Payne, B. K. (2001). Prejudice and perception: The role of automatic and controlled processes in misperceiving a weapon. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81, 181-192.
Payne, B. K., Jacoby, L. L., & Lambert, A. J. (2004). Memory monitoring and the control of stereotype distortion. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40, 52-64.
Payne, B. K., Lambert, A. J., & Jacoby, L. L. (2002). Best laid plans: Effects of goals on accessibility bias and cognitive control in racebased misperceptions of weapons. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38, 384-396.
Stewart, B. D., & Payne, B. K. (2008). Bringing automatic stereotyping under control: Implementation intentions as efficient means of thought control. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 1332-1345.
Last Update: 6/17/2016