Asked to identify the age of a young boy that committed a felony, participants in a study routinely overestimated the age of black children far more than they did white kids. Worse: Cops did it, too.
The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, aimed at figuring out the extent to which black children were likely to be treated differently than their white peers solely based on race. More specifically, the authors wanted to figure out the extent to which black kids were dehumanized. "Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection," author Phillip Atiba Goff of UCLA told the American Psychological Association. "Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent."
The researchers ran four different experiments aimed at gauging how people perceived criminal acts (both misdemeanors and felonies) depending on if the boy that committed it was black or white. Participants took a series of tests gauging racial attitudes and subtle associations. One test "primed" participants by flashing the names of either great cats, like lions, or apes. Two groups of people were interviewed, college-aged students and police officers. The group of police officers were evaluated on another metric: their on-the-job record of use of force against criminal suspects.
We'll start with that last bit of data. The graph at right shows the number of use of force incidents by officers in the study (though a small majority of officers had never used force). "[T]he implicit dehumanization of Blacks," the study's authors write, "was a significant predictor of racial disparities in the use of force against children" — though they're clear to note that it is "plausible that negative interactions with Black children disproportionately produce implicit anti-Black dehumanization."