Portland State University. Department of Psychology
Kimberly Barsamian Kahn
Date of Award
Master of Science (M.S.) in Psychology
1 online resource (vi, 129 pages)
Positive community-police relations, which are based on mutual trust, are key to equitable and just policing. Use of force that is perceived as unfair and biased can quickly undermine relations between the police and the public. In an attempt to understand what psychological factors contribute to police use of force decisions and potentially racially biased use of force application, this study proposed masculinity threat as an important psychological factor that influences police behavior. Masculinity threat occurs when a man's status as a man is threatened, and threats to masculinity are often associated with increased aggression and dominance as a way of restoring the threatened status. Policing is a male-dominated field, and because most victims of officer use of force are men, the current research examines how threats to male police officers' masculinity, including verbal and physical manifestations of threat, contribute to officer force against civilians. Past research has explored how high levels of trait masculinity threat (as measured by the Male Gender Role Stress scale; Goff, Martin, & Gamson-Smiedt, 2012) in police officers is associated with higher levels of force against racial minority suspects, however, no such research has examined state level masculinity threat (e.g., in the moment threats) as they occur in real world police-suspect interactions. Focusing on understanding the associations between use of force and state level masculinity threat, it was predicted that officers who have their masculinity explicitly and publicly threatened by male suspects will use more force against suspects compared to interactions where no such masculinity threat has occurred. It was also predicted that minority suspects who threaten officers' masculinity will receive more force than White
suspects. To test these hypotheses, reporting officers' (RO) narratives of use of force interactions (excluding lethal force) from a large police department on the West Coast were coded and analyzed. Contrary to the hypotheses, results suggest that masculinity threat within an officer-suspect interaction may relate to lower levels of average officer force and higher number of sequences (e.g., back and forth exchanges) between suspect and officer. While results are in the opposite direction of the hypotheses, they provide new information regarding the association between personal threats to officer manhood and their subsequent actions. Specifically, results suggest that masculinity threat has a more complicated relationship with force than previously predicted and future research would do well to investigate a potential interaction effect of trait level and state level masculinity on police use of force decisions. Several other areas of further research are outlined, such as the need to examine other suspect-level and officer-level variables such as age and tenure. Overall, the results of this study suggest the need for continued clarifying research.
Alston, Aurelia Terese, "The Force of Manhood: The Consequences of Masculinity Threat on Police Officer Use of Force" (2017). Dissertations and Theses. Paper 3532.