Even if white and black men are the same heights and weights, people tend to perceive black men as taller, more muscular and heavier. So said a psychological survey, published Monday in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, exploring stereotypes about perceptions of male bodies.
What’s more, the study found, nonblack participants believed black men to be more capable of physical harm than white men of the same size. The results also indicated that nonblack observers believed that police would be more justified to use force on these black men, even if they were unarmed, than white male counterparts.
“Unarmed black men are disproportionately more likely to be shot and killed by police, and often these killings are accompanied by explanations that cite the physical size of the person shot,” John Paul Wilson, an author of the study and a psychologist at New Jersey’s Montclair State University, said in a statement Monday.
The psychologists noted that, in the wake of police shootings, the physical size of those killed frequently becomes a focal point. Tamir Rice, who was shot and killed on a Cleveland playground in 2014 while holding a replica gun, was described as “menacing” after his death.
“He’s 5-feet-7, 191 pounds. He wasn’t that little kid you’re seeing in pictures. He’s a 12-year-old in an adult body,” Steve Loomis, president of Cleveland’s Police Patrolman’s Association, told Politico magazine in 2015. “Tamir Rice is in the wrong.”
And in 2012, after George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin, “images circulated depicting Martin as older and larger than he was,” the authors of the new study wrote. “In one notorious example, people widely shared a photograph of a man with facial tattoos in what was purported to be an up-to-date representation of Martin. In fact, it was a rap musician known as the Game who was in his 30s in the photograph.”
Wilson and his colleagues at the Miami University of Ohio and the University of Toronto conducted seven experiments, asking 950 online participants to gauge the physical and threatening characteristics of men, based on male faces and bodies.
In one of the studies, for instance, survey participants gauged men’s height and weights given only photographs of male faces. Of the 90 male faces, half of the men were black and the other half were white. The researchers used images of high school football quarterbacks being recruited to play college ball (therefore their height and weight data were publicly available to the scientists).
Those surveyed rated black men to be consistently larger — even though that was not, in reality, the case. Based on just the faces, they estimated that the black men were slightly taller (an average of 72 inches vs. 71 inches tall) and a bit heavier, at an average of 181 pounds for black men but 177 pounds for white men.
Source: Washington Post | Ben Guarino