Effects of Stereotype Threat on Black and White Individuals’ Verbal Responses in Police Encounters

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Strine, Samantha N.
stereotype threat; verbal response; police; encounters; Psychology
thesis / dissertation description
I examined whether Black and White individuals have different verbal behaviors in police encounters and, if so, whether stereotype threat explains these differences. This question is important because police officers use certain verbal behaviors as evidence of deception. Thus, unconscious behaviors arising from concern about being stereotyped as a criminal could cause Black men to be perceived by police as suspicious and, in turn, contribute to discrepancies in police treatment of Black versus White men. In this study, Black and White men interacted with a White security officer in a staged encounter that varied in stereotype relevance (low or high). The participants (n=72) also completed a measure of stereotype threat. Participants’ verbal responses were videorecorded, transcribed, and coded for words that reflected spatial and perceptual information, analytical thinking, affiliation, tone, authenticity, and cognitive processes. Black men reported experiencing more stereotype threat in the interaction than did White men, and stereotype threat increased as the relevance of the criminal stereotype went from low to high. Although neither race nor stereotype relevance influenced spatial or perceptual information, Black men used fewer authentic words than did White men. Also, all participants used more analytical thinking and affiliation words and more negative tone when stereotype relevance was high as compared to low. Use of words indicating cognitive processes decreased as stereotype relevance increased, and this effect was partially mediated by stereotype threat. These findings imply that race and stereotype relevance are related to verbal behaviors that could lead police officers to be more likely to perceive Black than White men as guilty. This could impact how the officer interacts with Black men and contribute to the cycle of mistrust and tension between Black individuals and police.