A new study prompted by the spate of unarmed black men killed in America suggests people may be more likely to mistake a toy or a tool for a gun when an African American is holding it. And this inherent negative bias was found to extend to black kids as young as five years old.
The research, published this week in the journal Psychological Science, conducted several tests to gauge inherent bias towards white or black people. Researchers quickly showed 64 white participants a photo of either a black or white five-year-old’s face and then an image of a gun or a toy. They asked them to ignore the face they saw and then identify the object as either the threatening or safe object.
During the first test, subjects were quicker to identify guns after seeing photos of black boys than they were when seeing white children. When researchers showed the participants white faces, the participants mistakenly labeled guns as toys in greater frequency than when primed with an image of a black kid.
A second test introduced men into the trials and replaced the toys with common tools, but researchers found similar results linking black adults, regardless of age, to the threatening objects in greater frequency.
Lead study author Andrew Todd, an assistant professor of psychology and brain sciences at the University of Iowa, told The Huffington Post the impetus for the report was linked to “the alarming rate at which young African Americans … are shot and killed by police in the U.S.”
“Although such incidents have multiple causes, one potential contributor is that young Black males are stereotypically associated with violence and criminality,” Todd said in a statement.
The study notes that further research can be done to see if the bias extends to black women, and if there is an age young enough where this inherent negativity ends. However, the authors end their paper suggesting “that youth may be insufficient to disarm the threat associated with black men.”
“So pervasive are these threat-related associations that they can shape even low-level aspects of social cognition,” Todd said.
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