MONTCLAIR, N.J. — As the racial divide across America continues to be a front-and-center topic in the current political atmosphere, a new study finds African-American men face exaggerated stigmas about their build when compared to white men of the same size.
Researchers at Montclair State University surveyed 950 American participants online and found that the majority viewed a sample of black men depicted in photographs “to be larger, stronger and more muscular” than white counterparts — when it turned out that both individuals in the set actually being the same size.
More troubling was the finding that “participants believed that the black men were more capable of causing harm in a hypothetical altercation,” and “that police would be more justified in using force to subdue them, even if the men were unarmed,” explains lead researcher John Paul Wilson, PhD, in an American Psychological Association release.
“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,” says Wilson. “Our research suggests that these descriptions may reflect stereotypes of black males that do not seem to comport with reality.”
Interestingly, even black participants demonstrated this cognitive bias to some extent, perceiving the black males to have more heft than the white males. They did not, however, view the black males to be more dangerous in a given situation than a similar white male.
It should also be mentioned that the African-American men who were deemed to have more stereotypically “black” facial features were more likely to be perceived as being disproportionately big.
As black men face violence from law enforcement at a higher rate than almost any other group, this study helps illuminate a possible reason.
Still, Wilson warns that the study’s findings are limited; more inquiry should be made into how this apparent bias plays into real-world police interactions, including life-or-death situations.
The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.