Race effects violent response, researchers say

By Karen Ye

Psychology professor Joshua Correll discussed the influence of racial stereotypes on individuals’ decisions in shoot-or–don’t shoot scenarios in a talk Thursday evening entitled “Racial Bias in the Decision to Shoot.” The event was jointly hosted by the campus groups Psi Chi, the U of C chapter of the National Honors Society in Psychology; the ACLU of C; and Trix, a group dedicated to appreciation of musical subgenres.

Correll said his studies use video game simulation to gauge differences in shooting reaction speed and error percentages at the Stereotyping & Prejudice Research Laboratory in the U of C Psychology Department. Targets–either armed or unarmed—and alternately of black or white race-—are displayed randomly in front of urban backgrounds, he explained.

Study participants “shoot” targets by pressing one button for armed targets and another for unarmed targets. Police officers, community members, and many U of C students participated in the study.

The study results showed that participants “shoot an armed target more quickly and more often when that target is black, rather than white,” the researchers reported on the laboratory’s website. However, due to specialized training and practice, the police officers exhibited a lower level of shooting bias than did other participants. Researchers stipulate that experience leads certain individuals to act on information other than stereotypical associations.

Interestingly, shooting biases occurred whether or not participants ascribed to racial stereotypes. Correll said that simply knowing about the stereotypes produced associations that influenced processing speeds and accuracies. He attributed some the problem of stereotypes in part to movies, television, and newspapers.

Correll said his research is still in progress, and he expressed enthusiasm over the new directions that the project could take. Recently he has extended his research to Asian and Latino targets in the video simulation. He also looks forward to implementing new virtual reality technology that will make the simulations more realistic.

Correll said he was initially inspired to conduct research on shooting bias after learning about the 1999 police shooting of Amadou Diallo, a black man living in New York. “I kept thinking ‘control condition,’” he recounted. “What would have happened if Diallo had been white?”