Date of Award

December 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)




Leonard S. Newman


construct activation, implicit association, implicit attitude, police officers

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


This research investigated implicit attitudes toward police among civilians. Two preliminary studies served as an empirical foundation for the current study, as both assessed the implicit construct activation of safety and fear when participants were primed with police using a modified version of the Word Fragment Completion Task (e.g., Johnson & Lord, 2010). The findings were counter-intuitive, such that in a college sample safety construct activation increased and fear decreased when primed with police, whereas in an online sample safety and fear construct activation increased. The current study sought to clarify these trends by utilizing four modified versions of the Implicit Association Test (IAT; Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998) to assess the comparative positive and negative implicit associations individuals have with police officers. Findings indicated stronger negative implicit associations (i.e., associating police with fear/bad) than positive implicit associations (i.e., associating police with safety/good) across all four versions of the police officer IAT. The predictive validity of the implicit associations and magnitude of D scores varied across IAT version, such that the versions involving categorization of police-related (versus everyday) symbols were most sensitive (i.e., had the strongest D scores) and the versions involving categorization of police (versus civilian) models had the most predictive validity. Various individual difference variables, including race and political affiliation, were tested as possible moderating variables. The use of implicit measures in the assessment of civilian perceptions of police is a novel approach, as previous research has solely used explicit measures (or examined police officers’ implicit reactions to civilians). The findings from this area of research prompt the need to further assess the underlying cognitive components of civilian attitudes toward police officers.


Open Access



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