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Cynthia Najdowski:

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Cultural stereotypes that link Black race to crime in the U.S. originated in and are perpetuated by policies that result in the disproportionate criminalization and punishment of Black people. The scientific record is replete with evidence that these stereotypes impact perceivers’ perceptions, information processing, and decision-making in ways that produce more negative criminal legal outcomes for Black people than White people. However, relatively scant attention has been paid to understanding how situations that present a risk of being evaluated through the lens of crime-related stereotypes also directly affect Black people. In this article, I consider one situation in particular: encounters with police. I draw on social psychological research on stereotype threat generally as well as the few existing studies of crime-related stereotype threat specifically to illuminate how the cultural context creates psychologically distinct experiences of police encounters for Black people as compared to White people. I further consider the potential ramifications of stereotype threat effects on police officers’ judgments and treatment of Black people as well as for Black people’s safety and wellbeing in other criminal legal contexts and throughout their lives. Finally, I conclude with a call for increased scholarly attention to crime-related stereotype threat and the role it plays in contributing to racial disparities in policing outcomes, particularly with regard to diverse racial, ethnic, and intersectional identities and personal vulnerability factors and the systemic changes that might mitigate its deleterious effects.


Public Significance Statement

Cultural stereotypes that portray Black people as criminal cause Black people to expect unfair judgment and treatment when they encounter police officers. This culturally, contextually, stereotype-driven psychological experience is stressful and burdensome. It also may increase Black people’s vulnerability to disproportionately negative policing and criminal legal outcomes compared to White people, and otherwise compromise their safety and wellbeing. Psychologists have an important role to play in illuminating the unacceptable costs imposed by this continuing legacy of slavery, and developing interventions to change the contexts that generate them.

Publisher Acknowledgement:

This is the Author’s Accepted Manuscript. The version of the record appears here: Najdowski, C. J. (In press). How the “Black criminal” stereotype shapes Black people’s psychological experience of policing: Evidence of stereotype threat and remaining questions. American Psychologist.



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