Public Release: 

Training could remove racial bias from police reactions

Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Racial biases in a police officer's response to criminal suspects, although present among some officers, are not inevitable. A study publishing in the latest issue of Psychological Science finds that extensive training with a computer simulation where the race of a suspect is unrelated to the presence of a weapon can eliminate racial bias. Fifty police officers from Florida with two to thirty years of experience participated in one hundred and sixty test trials. The earlier trials revealed that the officers were more likely mistakenly shoot at an unarmed Black suspect than an unarmed White suspect. But in the later trails the officers were similarly conservative in their decision to fire at Black and White suspects. "Exposure to the program, in which the race of the suspect was unrelated to the presence of a weapon, eliminated racial bias," the authors state.

In the simulation, images of White and Black college-age males appeared on the computer screen. A picture of a gun or a neutral object, e.g. wallet or cell phone, was superimposed onto each of their faces. The computer randomly selected a picture to display on the screen until the participants chose to shoot, chose not to shoot, or time ran out. An error message appeared on the screen for a full second if the suspect was unarmed and the officer shot. The authors stated, "These findings have important implications for both the elimination of racial biases in general and the training of police officers more specifically."

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This study is published in the current issue of Psychological Science. Media wishing to receive a PDF of this article please contact journalnews@bos.blackwellpublishing.net

The flagship journal of the American Psychological Society, Psychological Science publishes authoritative articles of interest across all of psychological science, including brain and behavior, clinical science, cognition, learning and memory, social psychology, and developmental psychology.

E. Ashby Plant is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Florida State University. She has been published in numerous publications.

Dr. Plant is available for questions and interviews.

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