Seeing black: race, crime, and visual processing

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2004 Dec;87(6):876-93. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.87.6.876.


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.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Attention
  • Black or African American*
  • Crime*
  • Ethnicity
  • Humans
  • Judgment
  • Social Perception*
  • Stereotyping
  • Visual Perception*