Faces of Black kids as young as 5 evoke negative biases: Study

New York, Feb 8 (IANS) People are more likely to misidentify a toy as a weapon after seeing a Black face than a White face even when the face in question is that of a five-year-old child, a new study has revealed.

“Our findings suggest that, although young children are typically viewed as harmless and innocent, seeing faces of five-year-old Black boys appears to trigger thoughts of guns and violence,” claimed lead study author Andrew Todd, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Iowa.

The inspiration for the series of studies, conducted by Todd and colleagues Kelsey Thiem and Rebecca Neel began with a real life observation.

“In this case, it was the alarming rate at which young African Americans — particularly young Black males — are shot and killed by police in the US,” Todd said.

The researchers presented 64 White college students with two images that flashed on a monitor in quick succession.

The students saw the first image — a photograph of a child’s face — which they were told to ignore because it purportedly just signalled that the second image was about to appear.

When the second image popped up, participants were supposed to indicate whether it showed a gun or a toy, such as a rattle.

The data revealed that the participants tended to be quicker at categorising guns after seeing a Black child’s face than after seeing a White child’s face.

Participants also mistakenly categorised toys as weapons more often after seeing images of Black boys than after seeing images of White boys.

However, they mistakenly categorised guns as toys more often after seeing a White child’s face than after seeing a Black child’s face.

A final experiment revealed that even threat-related words — including “violent,” “dangerous,” “hostile,” and “aggressive,” — were more strongly associated with images of young Black boys than with images of young White boys.

“One of the most pernicious stereotypes of Black Americans, particularly Black men, is that they are hostile and violent,” Todd and colleagues wrote in a paper published in the journal Psychological Science.

So pervasive are these threat-related associations that they can shape even low-level aspects of social cognition, the authors added.

Todd and colleagues hope to conduct further research into the extent of this implicit bias, investigating, for example, whether it also applies to Black women and girls.

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