Study: Blacks' Anxiety in Police Encounters Could Lead to Miscarriages of Justice

Police Training on Social and Cultural Context Cited as Critical to Process

ALBANY, N.Y. (July 8, 2015) -- New research shows that blacks concerned about being stereotyped as criminals in interactions with police officers could react in ways that lead to racial disparities in criminal justice outcomes.

Two studies, led by University at Albany Criminal Justice Professor Cynthia J. Najdowski and published in Law and Human Behavior, demonstrate that blacks in general are concerned about being stereotyped as criminals when they interact with law enforcement officers. This concern, known to psychologists as "stereotype threat," could affect citizens' experiences in police encounters in ways that lead to a racial imbalance in arrests, incarcerations, fines, and other elements of the criminal justice system.
Police stopping a motorist
"Stereotype threat" could affect citizens' experiences in police encounters in ways that lead to a racial imbalance in arrests and incarcerations.

Moreover, the effect was prevalent among black men but not black women, white women, or white men.

In addition, racial differences were found in anticipated anxiety and self-regulatory behaviors in law enforcement encounters. Black men were significantly more likely than white men to think they would feel anxious, anticipate they would monitor the situation and their behavior for risk of being stereotyped, and, paradoxically, react in ways that have been shown to be perceived as deceptive or suspicious by police.

The study concludes that black men who engage in stereotype-threat induced behavior could be at risk for miscarriages of justice.

"This work suggests that behaviors that police commonly perceive as furtive can be caused by normal psychological processes, not criminality. It highlights the importance of training police to consider how citizens are impacted by both social and cultural context," said Najdowski.

Read the full study here.

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