Why Brits are Seeing Red over Russia

By Duncan Smith

Britain’s dislike and distrust of Russia goes deeper than publicly expressed opinions suggest.

Using a test of implicit, subconscious attitudes which probes the individual’s innermost psyche, researchers at Mindlab investigated the nation’s opinions about Russia immediately before and just after the Winter Olympics in Sochi, then following the referendum in Crimea.

As Figure 1 below shows, openly expressed views on Russia (explicit responses) were consistently, if only mildly negative on all three occasions, reaching their most negative point after the take-over in Crimea. In contrast, our subconscious (implicit) dislike of Russia is far more intense than these publicly voiced criticisms would suggest.   As Figure 2 shows, the Olympics had a positive impact on people’s subconscious attitudes towards Russia, but this effect was undone by the controversy in Crimea.







Publicly expressed attitudes towards Russia were negative at all three time points. It is only when looking at implicit attitudes that we see the positive effect of the Games and the negative effect of the controversy in Crimea on people’s feelings towards Russia. These subconscious feelings drive our actions to a far greater extent than our consciously held views, and this finding illustrates just how deep antagonism towards Putin’s Russia is in the UK.

This study shows how sensitive implicit testing is to these changes in attitudes. Simply asking how people feel about Russia would have missed these more subtle, subconscious changes that occurred in response to these events. This type of testing can be used to track how people really feel towards brands, politicians, products or people. Self-reported responses often miss the subtleties of opinion shift.

A total of 621 UK adults were questioned and tested for their implicit attitudes using a modified form of the Implicit Association Test (IAT) on: 28th/29th January 2014; 24th/25th February 2014 and 17th/18th March 2014.

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