Seeing Black: Race, Crime, and Visual Processing

By Jennifer EberhardtPhillip Atiba GoffValerie J. PurdiePaul G. Davies
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
2004 Vol. 87 Issue 6 Pages 876–893.

Using police officers and undergraduates as participants, the authors investigated the influence of stereotypic associations on visual processing in 5 studies. Study 1 demonstrates that Black faces influence participants’ ability to spontaneously detect degraded images of crime-relevant objects. Conversely, Studies 2-4 demonstrate that activating abstract concepts (i.e., crime and basketball) induces attentional biases toward Black male faces. Moreover, these processing biases may be related to the degree to which a social group member is physically representative of the social group (Studies 4-5). These studies, taken together, suggest that some associations between social groups and concepts are bidirectional and operate as visual tuning devices—producing shifts in perception and attention of a sort likely to influence decision making and behavior.