Priming Unconscious Racial Stereotypes About Adolescent Offenders

Priming Unconscious Racial Stereotypes About Adolescent Offenders

By
Brian Lowery, Sandra Graham
Law and Human Behavior. October
2004, Vol. 28, Issue 5, Pages 483-504

Two studies examined unconscious racial stereotypes of decision makers in the juvenile justice system. Police officers (Experiment 1) and juvenile probation officers (Experiment 2) were subliminally exposed to words related to the category Black or to words neutral with respect to race. In a presumably unrelated task, officers read 2 vignettes about a hypothetical adolescent who allegedly committed either a property crime (shoplifting from a convenience store) or an interpersonal crime (assaulting a peer). The race of the offender was left unstated and the scenarios were ambiguous about the causes of the crime. Respondents rated the hypothetical offender on a number of traits (e.g., hostility and immaturity) and made judgments about culpability, expected recidivism, and deserved punishment. They also completed a self-report measure of conscious attitudes about race. As hypothesized, officers in the racial prime condition reported more negative trait ratings, greater culpability, and expected recidivism, and they endorsed harsher punishment than did officers in the neutral condition. The effects of the racial primes were not moderated by consciously held attitudes about African Americans. The implications of the findings for racial disparity in the juvenile justice system and for changing unconscious stereotypes were discussed.