GERNSBACHER, M. A., RAIMOND, A. R., STEVENSON, J. L., BOSTON, J. S., & HARP, B. (2017). Do puzzle pieces and autism puzzle piece logos evoke negative associations? Autism. DOI: 10.1177/1362361317727125
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Puzzle pieces have become ubiquitous symbols for autism. However, puzzle-piece imagery stirs debate between those who support and those who object to its use because they believe puzzle-piece imagery evokes negative associations. Our study empirically investigated whether puzzle pieces evoke negative associations in the general public. Participants’ (N = 400) implicit negative associations were measured with an Implicit Association Task, which is a speeded categorization task, and participants’ explicit associations were measured with an Explicit Association Task, which is a standard task for assessing consumers’ explicit associations with brands (and images of those brands). Puzzle pieces, both those used as autism logos and those used more generically, evoked negative implicit associations (t(399) = –5.357, p < 0.001) and negative explicit associations (z = 4.693, p < 0.001, d = 0.491). Participants explicitly associated puzzle pieces, even generic puzzle pieces, with incompleteness, imperfection, and oddity. Our results bear public policy implications. If an organization’s intention for using puzzle-piece imagery is to evoke negative associations, our results suggest the organization’s use of puzzle-piece imagery is apt. However, if the organization’s intention is to evoke positive associations, our results suggest that puzzle-piece imagery should probably be avoided.