People See Black Men More Threatening Than White Men Of Similar Size — Why This Obvious Study Actually Matters

"We do hope to continue to examine whether and how this bias operates in real-world interactions that are potentially lethal," researcher John Wilson, PhD told ESSENCE.

A new study published on the American Psychological Association website revealed something we've been well aware of for decades: Black men are perceived as more threatening than same-size white men.

"Black men are often spoken and written of as larger than life," John Wilson, PhD, Montclair University, author of the “Racial Bias in Judgments of Physical Size and Formidability: From Size to Threat" study told ESSENCE. 

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"This stereotype shows up frequently in media and broader culture, often in the context of violent crime, but also in more positive contexts, like sports. Other recent social science research had shown that Black people are often 'superhumanized'. In other words, they are seen as having superhuman characteristics."

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More than 950 online participants were asked to estimate the height, weight, strength and overall muscularity of Black and white men pictured in sequence. The majority of the participants, Black ones included, found bias.

But we knew this.

Murders cases involving 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who were regarded as suspicious men when they were in fact kids, revealed that this narrative is still present.

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So what new information can we take from this study?

"We do hope to continue to examine whether and how this bias operates in real-world interactions that are potentially lethal," Wilson said. "This work is just a small first step toward that goal."

"This has not materialized in the form of police training. It’s just too early to attempt to implement any policies based on our work. [But] we hope to move in this direction soon."

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