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Psychological Study: Whites Associate Black Faces as Young as 5 with Violence, Criminality

(Photo : Flickr/ woodleywonderworks)

(Photo: Flickr/ woodleywonderworks)

A revealing yet disturbing study on implicit racial bias in society sheds light on white stereotypes regarding Black criminality and attitudes toward Black children.  The study, conducted by University of Iowa researchers and published in the journal Psychological Science, found that people are more likely to misidentify a toy as a weapon when the face of the person they see is Black rather than white.  And that person can be a Black child as young as five years old.

“Our findings suggest that, although young children are typically viewed as harmless and innocent, seeing faces of five-year-old Black boys appears to trigger thoughts of guns and violence,” said Andrew Todd, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Iowa and author of the study, according to Business Standard. Todd, along with colleagues Kelsey Thiem and Rebecca Neel, conducted the research after making some real life observations.

“In this case, it was the alarming rate at which young African-Americans — particularly young Black males — are shot and killed by police in the U.S.,” he added.

In their study, the researchers provided 64 white college students with two images flashing on a screen in rapid succession — first a photo of a child’s face, which they were told to ignore, then a second image.  After the second image appeared, the participants were supposed to tell whether the object they saw was a gun or a toy.  The results indicated that the subjects in the experiment more hastily identified guns after viewing a Black child’s face than after seeing a white child’s face.  In addition, the students erroneously identified toys as guns more frequently after viewing the images of Black boys, and falsely categorized weapons as toys after looking at a face of a white child.

Another test found that threatening words such as “dangerous,” “aggressive,” “violent,” and “hostile” were more closely associated with images of Black boys than with white boys.

“One of the most pernicious stereotypes of Black Americans, particularly Black men, is that they are hostile and violent,” the authors wrote, hoping to determine in future studies if similar results apply to Black women and girls, and participants of other races who are not college students.

Some observers have called the results of this important study heartbreaking.

“I’ve also seen studies where whites are shown to believe that Blacks are more likely to have higher levels of pain tolerance, to be genetically faster, stronger, than whites,” Arnold Woods, a member of the Des Moines NAACP, told the Press-Citizen. “Again, to me, that just points to a stereotype of Blacks either being less than human or more than human, but never just human. When a 5-year-old child elicits a response of  ‘threat,’ then personal biases need to seriously be examined.”

“I would challenge people in our community to monitor their reaction to hearing the results of this study, face the feelings of discomfort of hearing about this unsettling aspect of how Black men experience living in this society, and consider how they might contribute to productive ways of unlearning these stereotypes,” said Sherry Watt, a professor of education at the University of Iowa and a faculty fellow for the University of Iowa’s Chief Diversity Office, to the Press-Citizen.

This most recent study mirrors prior research demonstrating that Black boys are viewed by whites — and white police officers — as older, less innocent and more culpable than their white peers.  Such disturbing trends help us to realize the extent to which these toxic racial attitudes are so subconsciously ingrained in society, thanks to the media and social conditioning, and how these thoughts and perceptions translate into negative policy outcomes for Black folks.  It allows us to understand why Black children are more likely to face school discipline and an introduction to the criminal justice system, and why Black people, and Black men and boys specifically, often wind up with a police bullet to the head.  These are the circumstances that create more Tamir Rices. And this is why Black parents have “that talk” with their sons about encountering the police, and why they hug their babies everyday, lest they see them today for the last time.

If we are not careful, we could have genocide on our hands and not even know it.

What people are saying

16 thoughts on “Psychological Study: Whites Associate Black Faces as Young as 5 with Violence, Criminality

  1. Lisa Eiklor says:

    The last sentence alludes to a possible future. The reality is that the genocide is happening now, just as it has been ongoing for the past 300+ years.

  2. Soleil Aluyi says:

    More excuses for whites to use for why they mistreat and kill black people, THE ORIGINAL PEOPLE ON THE PLANET.

  3. Marissa Bean says:

    What I find interesting is (and please really think about what is being said) White people like to flaunt themselves as a progressive group of people. The internet, cellular phones, and many other technologies and gadgets that are used throughout the daily lives of people. Sure, there is a certain extent of having very useful technology to assist with your daily living. YET!!!!! with all the progression in creating new technology…..Why is it Whites do not create a different mindset, and progress with their mental mindset?. Rather then Whites seemingly having the need in keeping their archaic way of thinking. It's been since the beginning of time that Whites have had the mindset of believing they are superior to all, and they are to be a priveleged people. YET!!!! how is it Blacks are always sought after for every reason in the book to prove the meaning of being Gifted and Able. Blacks are used to sell product, be supportive, show top performance, display style, elegance and beauty, even as partners. Whites have tried to emmulate blacks in so many ways. Yet, Blacks are then degraded by the same people who are said to be highly intelligent and progressive. How is it Whites are not progressive in mind and stop their racist views that they have held onto for years? For which, has done nothing but make this world very sad, and miserable for so many including the Whites who still practice their archaic mindset. I do think Whites like to make up excuses to remain lazy in thought and action and really don't realize how lazy it is in their not finally taking a look at themselves and looking to do what is right for all and not just themselves. Black Lives Matter has been critized by Whites who have for YEARS! practiced Whites only Matter….time to change your way of thinking to White People! and you will see just how much it is your thinking that has caused so many problems in this world.

  4. Marissa Bean says:


  5. N Cory Gable says:

    yup , about age 5 they start becoming violent and wonder where daddy is and why momma be shakin her ass at a new thug every week. Good article, accurate reporting!

  6. Larry Motley says:

    IF black lives TRULY mattered to black folk and racist groups like BLM – they would be equally upset when the killer is black not just white. You only hear howls of protest when a black is killed by a white , thats about 1 out of 100 black deaths. SO 99% of the time blacks could care less about black lives.

  7. They do not have to be five years old. The theory is to kill them before they grow from the womb to the tomb.

  8. I'm "white"-when I see little faces. I see adorable little kids. I guess- I am blinded from color. I see innocence #Hope #ourfutures I guess I don't understand the prejudice behind why skin color, diversity places value on lives, or why there is so many inequities. I am not blinded to the point of not seeing it, the prejudice the article speaks of- it's there- I see it, I just don't understand it. I also understand that I am but one white person-I do believe that this unequal thoughts and prejudice starts in infancy. Change will happen when all people teach & express & guide their child to have open hearts, open minds and embrace the world of differences, it is childhood where change needs to occur. Respect for all culture, race, and diversity. The key is stopping hate from spreading or continuing within our children. I also realise that this unfortunately won't happen, there is so much hate between all races to clear our minds, reset. The history is so very long. Things yes have seen progression however full UNITY and Acceptance- I dont believe will truly happen. To believe so is living in one of those futuristic Movies, where genetics, or lives are so controled by fascist exsistence. I have come to the conclusion that All I can do is teach my children, answer their questions, guide them when they see or hear things, redirect when needed- and most important show them by modeling the behaviours I wish them to exhibit. #kindness #acceptance

  9. Louis Alfred says:

    You clearly are clueless. Declaring BLM a racist group is even more cluless. and if you think we don't connsider Black on Black crime with equal apssion you clearly know litle to nothing of African Americans… Next you take the protest clearly out of context… White police officiers with out probable cause. How many prtests happen when they kill a black criminal who really was violating the law and threatened a cops life? Never. You're an idiot recationary.

  10. Brandon Ward says: 52 murders during January in 2016. But you niggers piss and moan about getting shot by cops? LOL

  11. Louis Alfred BLM= Black KKK

  12. It's OK? Who ever said that?

  13. Larry Motley says:

    Louis Alfred racist group blm won't let white people attend their meetings. Discrimination is racism! Down with racism and blm! I forgive your ignorance lou

  14. Larry Motley says:

    get off the drugs

  15. Larry Motley Why would you assume #Kindness and #acceptance can't happen- I truly do believe this can happen if adults teach, guide and model to youth the behaviours that are necessary to bring change. Also just FYI- not on drugs and don't drink- just hopeful… Have a great evening.

  16. I'm white! I see cute boys ! Whether they are black, white, aboriginal, Chinese , east Indian or any other group! I see a child! A human being!

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