First Advisor

Kimberly Barsamian Kahn

Term of Graduation

Spring 2020

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Psychology






Pregnant women -- Social conditions, Police brutality -- Public opinion, Racism, Stereotypes (Social psychology), Sexism, Discrimination in law enforcement



Physical Description

1 online resource (vi, 171 pages)


Attention surrounding forceful policing largely focuses on men's experiences, but Black women, even when pregnant, are also harmed by police use of force. Previous research demonstrating anti-Black biases in perceptions of police use of force toward men cannot be directly applied towards women, due to unique stereotypes of Black women and mothers. How do race and pregnancy influence perceptions of police use of force against women? It was expected that pregnancy would elicit more positive responses in the current study, but only when pregnant women were also White. Benevolent sexism (BS) and social dominance orientation (SDO) were tested as moderators of the interaction between race and pregnancy, and perceived physical pain of the woman was tested as a mechanism for disparate outcomes. Data were collected from 463 participants who read a fictitious news article detailing a police use of force incident where the race (Black, White) and pregnancy status (pregnant, not pregnant) of a female target was varied. A survey was used to measure responses towards the target, including support for the amount of force used, victim blaming, and endorsement of disciplinary sanctions against the officer. Results showed main effects of race and pregnancy, where responses were more positive towards Black and pregnant women, with no significant interactions. Tests of moderation suggested that BS and SDO may relate to disparities in police accountability by target race, such that those lower in these social attitudes are more likely to endorse criminal charges against an officer when the woman is Black. Physical pain was not found to be a mechanism. Findings are discussed in relation to theories of prejudice suppression, shifting standards, and social discourse surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement. This study contributes to the extant body of literature on perceptions of police use of force by addressing the gaps which do not represent women and motherhood in the policing empirical literature.


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