Study: Black men seen as more threatening than similarly sized white men
Black men are perceived as physically larger and more threatening than white counterparts of similar size, according to a study published by Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
"Unarmed black men are disproportionately more likely to be shot and killed by police, and often these killings are accompanied by explanations that cite the physical size of the person shot," John Paul Wilson, PhD, of Montclair State University and the lead author of the study, stated. "Our research suggests that these descriptions may reflect stereotypes of black males that do not seem to comport with reality."
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Dr. Wilson and his team conducted a series of experiments surveying over 950 participants from across the United States. The respondents presented with color photographs depicting white and black faces of men who were all said to be of equal weight and height. They were then asked to guess the subjects' weight, height and overall strength.
"We found 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," Dr. Wilson said. "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."
Though black participants didn't perceive black subjects to be more dangerous or harmful than those who were white, they also displayed bias towards black men, according to Dr. Wilson, deeming them to be more muscular than white counterparts.
"We found that men with darker skin and more stereotypically black facial features tended to be most likely to elicit biased size perceptions, even though they were actually no larger than men with lighter skin and less stereotypical facial features," said Dr. Wilson. "Thus, the size bias doesn't rely just on a white versus black group boundary. It also varies within black men according to their facial features."
Dr. Wilson suggests that his findings could have an impact on the disproportionate rate at which black men are killed by police. However, he cautions that this research did not recreate "real-world" situations simulating interactions with police, adding that more research would be necessary to conclude how this bias operates in "potentially lethal situations and other real-world police interactions."