A new study by researchers at the University of Colorado and San Diego State University finds that both college students and police officers exhibit racial bias when confronted with split-second decisions on who is dangerous and who is not.
Subjects were asked to play a video game where people of various ethnicities pop into view. In some cases the individuals were carrying guns or other weapons. In other cases they were unarmed or holding other devices such as cellphones. Players were told to “shoot” the threatening people but not the unarmed people.
The results show that Blacks were most likely to shot at, followed by Hispanic, Whites, and Asians. Police officers, who were from 11 states, were better able to identify threatening suspects than the college students, but the police officers were still more likely to shoot Blacks and Hispanics.
Joshua Correll, an associate professor of social psychology at the University of Colorado and one of the authors of the study, stated that students who showed no biases during the interview process did exhibit bias during the video game. “I may not believe it personally,” Correll said, “but I am exposed to stereotypes — such as the idea that young Black men are dangerous — constantly through media or social networks. Those associations can have an influence on my behavior even if I don’t believe them.”
The research, funded by a grant from the Russell Sage Foundation, was published in the Journal of Social Issues and can be accessed here.