What Influences Shooter Bias? The Effects of Suspect Race, Neighborhood, and Clothing on Decisions to Shoot

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Journal of Social Issues

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Police shooting deaths of unarmed Blacks and African Americans led to psychological research on the influence of racial stereotypes on decisions to shoot, an effect called shooter bias. This article investigates how contextual cues signaling threat or safety interact with the race of the target to moderate shooter bias. Across two experimental studies using a first person shooter task, participants viewed Black or White male targets who held either a neutral (wallet or cellphone) or dangerous (gun) object. Study 1 manipulated the perceived safety or threat associated with the neighborhood context these shooting decisions occurred in, and Study 2 manipulated the perceived safety or threat associated with the targets’ clothing. Participants made quick decisions to “shoot” or “not shoot” the presented target, with error rates serving as the dependent variable. Across both studies, results confirmed that racial bias in shooting decisions against Blacks was present in perceived threatening neighborhoods and in perceived threatening clothing, and it was reduced in perceived safe neighborhoods and when wearing perceived safe clothing. Results help to identify contextual factors that may lead to mistaken shooting decisions, which can be used to improve police training and decision making to reduce bias.



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