Study Finds Racial Bias in Split-Second Decision-Making on Who Is Dangerous

A new study by researchers at the University of Colorado and San Diego State University finds that both college students and police officers exhibit racial bias when confronted with split-second decisions on who is dangerous and who is not.

Subjects were asked to play a video game where people of various ethnicities pop into view. In some cases the individuals were carrying guns or other weapons. In other cases they were unarmed or holding other devices such as cellphones. Players were told to “shoot” the threatening people but not the unarmed people.

The results show that Blacks were most likely to shot at, followed by Hispanic, Whites, and Asians. Police officers, who were from 11 states, were better able to identify threatening suspects than the college students, but the police officers were still more likely to shoot Blacks and Hispanics.

Joshua Correll, an associate professor of social psychology at the University of Colorado and one of the authors of the study, stated that students who showed no biases during the interview process did exhibit bias during the video game. “I may not believe it personally,” Correll said, “but I am exposed to stereotypes —  such as the idea that young Black men are dangerous — constantly through media or social networks. Those associations can have an influence on my behavior even if I don’t believe them.”

The research, funded by a grant from the Russell Sage Foundation, was published in the Journal of Social Issues and can be accessed here.


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  1. Doc. Kennedy says:

    Whaw, my radio show is actually doing a special series where mothers are sharing their stories of how their young Black sons got gunned down and were killed by police officers. By the way, these young men DID NOT HAVE ANY WEAPONS ON THEM. However, each police officer stated that “…I felt threatened for my life…”, even though they had not seen a gun displayed by these young Black men. Yet they shot them in cold blood. So we are having their mothers speak out on my radio show of the injustice. (These cops usually walk). I sure will be sharing this study to confirm the stereotyping and fear taking place in our society when it comes to people of color and especially our Black males. A timely study. Maybe you’ll consider coming on my talk show to share more of your thoughts from this study!!! Yes? To think you could find all this from a video game. Whaw!

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