Brain, Biology and Behavior, Center for


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Skinner AL and Haas IJ (2016) Perceived Threat Associated with Police Officers and Black Men Predicts Support for Policing Policy Reform. Front. Psychol. 7:1057. doi 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01057


Copyright © 2016 Skinner and Haas. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY)


Racial disparities in policing and recent high-profile incidents resulting in the deaths of Black men have ignited a national debate on policing policies. Given evidence that both police officers and Black men may be associated with threat, we examined the impact of perceived threat on support for reformed policing policies. Across three studies we found correlational evidence that perceiving police officers as threatening predicts increased support for reformed policing practices (e.g., limiting the use of lethal force and matching police force demographics to those of the community). In contrast, perceiving Black men as threatening predicted reduced support for policing policy reform. Perceived threat also predicted willingness to sign a petition calling for police reform. Experimental evidence indicated that priming participants to associate Black men with threat could also reduce support for policing policy reform, and this effect was moderated by internal motivation to respond without prejudice. Priming participants to associate police officers with threat did not increase support for policing policy reform. Results indicate that resistance to policing policy reform is associated with perceiving Black men as threatening. Moreover, findings suggest that publicizing racially charged police encounters, which may conjure associations between Black men and threat, could reduce support for policing policy reform.