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620 participants (Mean age= 47.58, SD= 16.763) completed the study as part of an large
scale online questionnaire regarding charitable donations to Hurricane Katrina victims of
relatively unknown cities (Slidell, LA or Biloxi, MS).
Part One: Experimental manipulation of the perceived race using audiovisual stimuli was shown.
Eight photos of victims and an associated audio storyline were displayed. Two treatment
conditions were included: mostly white residents, or mostly black residents. Gender, age, number
of people shown and emotional associations were matched across conditions. Race was the
defining feature of the photo, with other extraneous variables controlled for. A control condition
used victims with obscured races. Participants were not informed of any true information
regarding the town or residents.
The audiovisual presentation contained 12 randomly assigned experimental manipulations. Two
photo manipulations (race itself and whether race was shown or hidden), nine audio
manipulations, and which city was they belonged to. All participants viewed randomized versions
of the same experiment.
Part Two: Participants were asked a series of questions regarding their demographics including
gender, age and race. Race was divided into categories of white (N=372), black (N=148), other
non-Hispanic (N=7), Hispanic (N=68) or 2+ races non-Hispanic (N=25).
Specific questions relevant to this research question included: “As your best guess, what
percentage of recipients of [CHARITY] in [TOWN] are: [White - percent]”
“As your best guess, what percentage of recipients of [CHARITY] in [TOWN] are: [African
American - percent]”
“As your best guess, what percentage of recipients of [CHARITY] in [TOWN] have a criminal
Participants were not asked about any specific type of crime.
In support of our hypothesis, towns perceived to have a larger number of African Americans
were significantly positively correlated with higher levels of perceived crime; r = .256, p = <
.001 (Figure 1). An ANCOVA, holding participants’ own race constant, was consistent with this;
F(31, 475) = 2.728, p < .001.
African Americans and Perceived Crime
Perceived % of Population with Criminal Record
Public perceptions of race and the associated stereotypes have recently become a popular topic
in both psychology and the media. Specifically, the treatment of African Americans by the justice
system and police in the USA, perpetuating the societal demonization of such group (Voigt et al.,
2017). US news coverage on crime is significantly more focused on African Americans compared
to whites (Entman, 1992). African Americans are also more likely to be portrayed as violent crime
suspects, and generally more physically threatening (Jamieson, 1992). Furthermore, social
psychology studies have found that the same actions are perceived as significantly more
aggressive in black individuals by white participants, due to a racial outgroup bias (Duncan,
It is important to note that African Americans do have statistically higher levels of criminal records
overall compared to whites, and are six times more likely to face time in prison (West and Sabol,
2009; Voigt et al., 2017). However, recent research heavily implies the presence of racial
profiling in stop and searches (National Public Radio, 2017) and a sigificant imbalance of
sentencing time dependent on race. For example, African Americans experience longer sentences
for the same or lesser crime than whites, even with a shorter criminal record (Warren, Chiricos
and Bales, 2012).
This study aims to investigate the relationship between race and perceived criminal activity of
whites and African Americans, also taking the participants’ own race into account. We hypothesize
that the higher the perceived number of African Americans, the higher the amount of perceived
crime, consistent with Quillian and Pager (2001). In contrast, high levels of perceived white
populations will be associated with lower levels of perceived crime. Participants’ own race will be
used as a covariate.
Perceived % African Americans in the City
Figure 1. Scatterplot showing the correlation between perceived amount of African Americans and crime; r = .256
, p = < .001.
Furthermore, towns with a perceived high level of white residents were correlated with lower
levels of perceived crime; r = -.277, p = < .001 (Figure 2). A further ANCOVA found this to be
true; F(34, 471) = 2.351, p < .001, also whilst holding the participants’ own race constant.
Whites and Perceived Crime
Perceived % of Population with Criminal Record
University of York
The findings of this study support our hypotheses and are consistent with previous literature
(Quillian and Pager, 2001); levels of perceived crime were significantly higher for African
Americans. Low levels of perceived crime were significantly lower for whites. Furthermore, the
results were not dependent on the participants’ own race, there were no interracial differences
in the perceptions overall.
However, it is unclear as to whether the results are due to racial stereotyping or knowledge of
the justice system and associated racial statistics (West and Sabol, 2009; Voigt et al., 2017).
Future research may benefit from factoring in participants’ knowledge of racial profiling and
relevant movements such as Black Lives Matter (Edwards and Harris, 2016). Additionally, our
study did not focus on specific crimes, which has been found to influence decisions. Sunnafrank
and Fontes (1983) found that violent crimes, but not nonviolent crimes, are associated more
frequently with blacks than with whites. This could be a variable to factor into further research.
Inconsistent with the findings of Duncan (1976), whites did not show significantly higher
stereotyping compared to black participants. There was an overall trend between all racial
groups. However, the presence of unequal racial groups may have led to the insignificant
findings in this area. The sample size was predominantly white participants, which could explain
the trend. Future replications must ensure relatively equal and reliable sampling.
Assuming our results are replicated with equal racial sampling, a second topic may be
important. If African Americans have the same perceptions of crime and race as whites, this
could indicate a more social and political issue ingrained in all populations, rather than a
personal discriminative opinion. STUDY
Unconscious racial stereotypes of African Americans include violence and aggression
(Sniderman and Piazza, 1993, p. 45). Therefore, the harsh treatment of the black American
population by the justice system may be due to feeling unnecessarily threatened.
It is important to make light of these findings and those of others to highlight the role of racial
stereotyping in the justice system, from unequal stop and searches (National Public Radio,
2017) to inequality of sentencing (Warren, Chiricos and Bales, 2012). These factors are
thought to contribute to the large African American prison population, and will therefore
strengthen the negative stereotypes.
Perceived % White in the City
Figure 2. Scatterplot showing the correlation between perceived amount of Whites and crime; r = -.277, p
= < .001.
Duncan, B. L. (1976). Differential social perception and attribution of intergroup violence: Testing the lower limits of
stereotyping of blacks. Journal of personality and social psychology, 34(4), 590.
Edwards, S. B., & Harris, D. (2016). Black Lives Matter. ABDO. Retrieved from
Entman, R. M. (1992). Blacks in the news: Television, modern racism and cultural change. Journalism Quarterly, 69(2),
Jamieson, K. H. (1992). Dirty Politics: Deception, Distraction, and Democracy. New York: Oxford University Press.
National Public Radio. (2017). DISCRIMINATION IN AMERICA: EXPERIENCES AND VIEWS OF AFRICAN AMERICANS. Retrieved
Quillian, L., & Pager, D. (2001). Black neighbors, higher crime? The role of racial stereotypes in evaluations of
neighborhood crime. American journal of sociology, 107(3), 717-767.
Sniderman, P. M., & Piazza, T. (1993). The Scar of Race. Cambridge. Harvard University Press.
Voigt, R., Camp, N. P., Prabhakaran, V., Hamilton, W. L., Hetey, R. C., Griffiths, C. M., … & Eberhardt, J. L. (2017). Language
from police body camera footage shows racial disparities in officer respect. Proceedings of the National Academy of
Warren, P., Chiricos, T., & Bales, W. (2012). The imprisonment penalty for young Black and Hispanic males: A crime-specific
analysis. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 49(1), 56-80.
West, H. C., & Sabol, W. J. (2009). Prison inmates at midyear 2008: Statistical tables. NCJ, 225619.