Study Finds That Prospective Teachers Perceive Black Children as Angry When They Are Not

A new study lead by scholars at North Carolina State University found that prospective teachers are more likely to interpret the facial expressions of Black boys and girls as being angry, even when they are not. This is significantly different than how the prospective teachers interpreted the facial expressions of White children.

For the study, the researchers surveyed prospective teachers from three teacher training programs in the Southeast. Eighty-nine percent of the study participants were women, and 70 percent of the participants were White. The prospective teachers were shown short video clips of child actors’ facial expressions, with each one displaying a different emotion. The video clips were divided equally between Black and White students and between boys and girls. The prospective teachers were asked to identify the emotion being displayed in each clip.

The study found that participants were 1.36 times more likely to exhibit racialized anger bias against Black children than against White children, meaning that they were that much more likely to incorrectly view a Black child as angry when the child was not actually making an angry facial expression. For boys, participants were 1.16 times more likely to mistake a Black boy’s facial expressions for anger than a White boy’s. Participants were 1.74 times more likely to mistake a Black girl’s facial expression for anger than was the case for a White girl.

Amy Halberstadt, lead author of the study and a professor of psychology at North Carolina State University, stated that “the level of bias we found here could have significant adverse effects on children in classrooms. We already know that Black students experience many more suspensions, expulsions, and disciplinary actions than White students, often for the same behavior. And this study suggests that misperceiving anger – even at an unconscious level – could play a significant role in that disparity.”

The full study, “Racialized Emotion Recognition Accuracy and Anger Bias of Children’s Faces,” was published in the journal Emotion. It may be accessed here.

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