The research questions addressed in this study are:
Are the police officers influenced by the racial biasness in dealing with criminals?
Can the biasness be eliminated by repeated exposure to computer simulation?
The research hypotheses are:
Police officers’ responses to criminal suspects are influenced by the suspects’ race
The racial biasness can be overcome by training and computer simulation
The participants in the study are 50 certified sworn law-enforcement personnel in the state of Florida. There were 83% male and the rest were females. Among the males there were 84% White, 10% Black, 2% Native Americans and 4% Hispanic. The average age of the participants were 37 years and out of the 50 respondents there were, two of the officer made very few valid responses and thus the study was conducted on 48 participants.
In order to test the hypotheses, computer simulation was used. This simulation was used previously at a study by Plant et al. the programme uses a Inquisit software that instructed the participants to follow certain guidelines and instructions.
The program presented to the participants with digital color photographs of nine Black and nine White males of college standard; they were selected from a set of pictures matched for attractiveness. A picture of a gun or a neutral object (e.g., wallet, cell phone), formatted to be equivalent in size and background, was superimposed on each of the faces. The gun or other object was positioned with the face still visible, but the location varied so that participants could not predict where the object would appear. Two stimuli were created for each face, one with a gun and one with a neutral object (Collins, 2010). On each trial, the computer program randomly selected one of the pictures and displayed it on the screen. So that the program would be challenging, the picture randomly appeared toward the top, middle, or bottom of the screen and toward the right, center, or left of the screen. Each picture appeared on screen until the participant responded or until the 630-ms time limit elapsed. When a participant did not make a correct decision (i.e., hit the wrong key or exceeded the time limit), an error message appeared on screen for a full second. Each participant completed 20 practice trials and 160 test trials.
The procedure that was carried was that the officers were asked to meet the experiments individually in the private offices at headquarter of the departments. They were asked to sit at a desk with laptops in the front ('Social Psychology Quarterly: Article Index to Volume 74: 2011', 2011). They were told that the study was about the decisions to shoot and how the different factors influence the decision to shoot. The participants read the consent form and they agreed to participate in the simulation. They did not sign the forms as the anonymity was to be kept ensured. The experimenter provided the instructions to the participants regarding the computer simulation, and the participants did their task. After the simulation was over, participants were debriefed about the experiment and thanked for their participation.
The aim of this study that was hypothesized was to demonstrate that racial biases in responses to criminal suspects. It was seen that although it was present among some police officers, it was not inevitable and can be overcome with training on a computer simulation in which race is non diagnostic.
Theses implications are important as because the decision of the police regarding shooting of the criminal based on the racial biasness could be understood. It was seen that they mistakenly shot the black suspects more than the white suspects in the early trial, but it was corrected after the simulation (Correll, Park, Judd & Wittenbrink, 2002). It was seen that unlike much of the previous work that demonstrated the existence of racial biases in the decisions to shoot and in weapon identification, the current study is heartening and indicates that, although such biases exist in police officers’ responses to computer simulations, they are not inevitable and may be eliminated.
The methodological strength of the study was that to find whether the performance of the participants in the simulation task revealed less bias on the later trials than the earlier trials, it was split into two parts. The responses of the trails of the first half were compared to the responses of the second half. The error scores were submitted to a formula:
2 (race of suspect: Black vs. White) * 2 (object: gun vs. neutral) * 2 (trial: early vs. late)
Then the object ANOVA was conducted for the early as well as the late trials
The limitations were that the sample sizes small and it does not represent the whole police force. Thus there remains the problem that the racial discrimination can exist among the police. Moreover they were not tested regularly in order to check their progress.
It is hoped that is that the current work will provides a critical first step towards the understanding of the factors that influence and also eliminate the racial biases in police officers’ responses to the criminal suspects (Kelley, 2000).
There is a question that can be raised is that the simulation can make the policemen sort out the difference of the biasness, but whether it will have a long lasting effect on them?
Collins, R. (2010). The Contentious Social Interactionism of Charles Tilly. Social Psychology Quarterly. doi:10.1177/0190272509359616
Correll, J., Park, B., Judd, C., & Wittenbrink, B. (2002). The police officer's dilemma: Using ethnicity to disambiguate potentially threatening individuals. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 83(6), 1314-1329. doi:10.1037//0022-35188.8.131.524
Kelley, H. (2000). The Proper Study of Social Psychology. Social Psychology Quarterly, 63(1), 3. doi:10.2307/2695877
Social Psychology Quarterly: Article Index to Volume 74: 2011. (2011). Social Psychology Quarterly, 74(4), 441-442. doi:10.1177/0190272511427896
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