In a society that constantly battles discrimination it might be surprising to find different ethnic groups are still prone to social bias.
Nevertheless, a new study by the American Psychological Association reveals black men are perceived to be larger and more threatening than their same-sized white counterparts.
The research, featured in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, offers clear insight into how racial prejudice still affects social interactions and suggests widely spread stereotypes don't have a strong basis in reality.
'More Harmful And Deserving Of Force'
In a series of experiments designed to determine to what extent someone's ethnicity influences general perception, more than 950 online participants from the United States were asked to judge a group of individuals and assess their physical features after seeing their faces in color photographs.
The images portrayed black and white men of the same body type, which were evaluated by the participants on their estimated height, weight, strength and overall muscularity.
According to lead author John Paul Wilson, from Montclair State University, the study participants all made "consistently biased" estimates, and perceived the black men pictured in the photographs as larger, stronger and more muscular than the white men, despite both groups being the same size.
"Participants also believed that the black men were more capable of causing harm," Wilson said in a statement. The study author added most respondents agreed "the police would be more justified in using force to subdue them," regardless of whether they were armed or not.
A Vicious Circle
Surprisingly, not only white study participants exhibited an altered, stereotypical perception. Black people also displayed bias when assessing photos of black young men, but with a notable difference: although they still distinguished them as more muscular, they didn't judge them to be more dangerous or to command a more forceful response.
Another experiment in the study required participants to view images of male bodies having the same physical measurements. To differentiate them based on ethnicity, participants had only "black" or "white" image labels to go on. The results again showed an unmistakable tendency to describe black bodies as taller and heavier.
A third experiment involved assessing facial features and uncovered stereotypical-looking physiognomies tend to elicit a biased size perception. Study conclusions point out racial prejudice is not contained only within the boundaries of black versus white groups, but also present within the black community, where it becomes applicable "according to facial features."
The misperception of black men's stature and implied aggressiveness negatively impacts not only every-day social connections, but also interactions with law enforcers.
"Unarmed black men are disproportionately more likely to be shot and killed by police, and often these killings are accompanied by explanations that cite the physical size of the person shot," explains Wilson.
However, Wilson clearly states his study doesn't replicate the real-world threat scenarios police officers face in their line of work and calls for further research into the role of racial bias in potentially dangerous situations.