Shootings in the field are particularly difficult to study because they can have a multitude of complex, confounding and hard-to-control variables. But WSU Spokane's Simulated Hazardous Operational Tasks Laboratory can control variables like suspect clothing, hand positions, threatening stance and race, while giving observers precise data on when participants are fired upon and how many milliseconds they take to fire back.
James' study is a follow-up to one in which she found active police officers, military personnel and the general public took longer to shoot black suspects than white or Hispanic suspects. Participants were also more likely to shoot unarmed white suspects than black or Hispanic ones and more likely to fail to fire at armed black suspects.
"In other words," wrote James and her co-authors, "there was significant bias favoring blacks where decisions to shoot were concerned."
When confronted by an armed white person, participants took an average of 1.37 seconds to fire back. Confronted by an armed black person, they took 1.61 seconds to fire and were less likely to fire in error. The 24-millisecond difference may seem small, but it's enough to be fatal in a shooting
The recent study analyzed data from electroencephalograph sensors that measured participants' alpha brain waves, which are suppressed in situations that appear threatening.
The participants, 85 percent of whom were white, "demonstrated significantly greater threat responses against black suspects than white or Hispanic suspects," wrote James and her co-authors, University of Missouri-St. Louis criminologist David Klinger and WSU Spokane's Bryan Vila. This, they said, suggests the participants "held subconscious biases associating
|Contact: Lois James|
Washington State University