Study Finds a Bias in the Perception of the Size and Threat of Black Men

A new study led by John Paul Wilson, an assistant professor of social psychology at Montclair State University in New Jersey, found that people tend to perceive Black men as larger and more threatening than White men of the same size.

In a series of experiments, participants were shown photographs of Black and White male faces who had identical height and weight. The participants were asked to estimate each individual’s height and weight as well as strength and muscularity.

Dr. Wilson reports that “these estimates were consistently biased. Participants judged the Black men to be larger, stronger and more muscular than the White men, even though they were actually the same size. Participants also believed that the Black men were more capable of causing harm in a hypothetical altercation and, troublingly, that police would be more justified in using force to subdue them, even if the men were unarmed.”

Black test subjects also displayed a similar bias. And Dr. Wilson added that “men with darker skin and more stereotypically Black facial features tended to be most likely to elicit biased size perceptions.”

The article, “Racial Bias in Judgments of Physical Size and Formidability: From Size to Threat,” was published on the website of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a publication of the American Psychological Association. It may be downloaded here.

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