Men of the same size are viewed by Americans as larger and more threatening if they are black, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.
The research studies—conducted by John Paul Wilson, Nicholas Rule, and Kurt Hugenberg—utilized online tests to determine that if two men have nearly identical bodies, a person’s perception of which man is more dangerous is altered by the man's race.
“Unarmed black men are disproportionately more likely to be shot and killed by police, and often these killings are accompanied by explanations that cite the physical size of the person shot,” said the lead author, Wilson, of Montclair State University. “Our research suggests that these descriptions may reflect stereotypes of black males that do not seem to comport with reality.”
The series of experiments involved nearly 1,000 online participants from the United States. As the APA puts it, “people were shown a series of color photographs of white and black male faces of individuals who were all of equal height and weight. The participants were then asked to estimate the height, weight, strength and overall muscularity of the men pictured.”
Wilson summed up the findings.
“We found that these estimates were consistently biased. Participants judged the black men to be larger, stronger, and more muscular than the white men, even though they were actually the same size,” he said. “Participants also believed that the black men were more capable of causing harm in a hypothetical altercation and, troublingly, that police would be more justified in using force to subdue them, even if the men were unarmed.”
This is not the first study of its type. As Vox pointed out, numerous studies have found evidence of racism in America.
For example, a 2014 study determined that police officers commonly held an unconscious “dehumanization bias” against black people.
“Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection,” Philip Goff, one of the study’s authors, said in a statement. “Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent.”