Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Study Examines Role of Stereotypes in Identifying Criminal Suspects

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Study Examines Role of Stereotypes in Identifying Criminal Suspects

Article excerpt

Research by a Penn State media studies expert reveals that memory of crime stories with the suspects' pictures reflects racial stereotypes, and African Americans are especially likely to be mistakenly identified for perpetrators of violent crimes, an issue being discussed nationally by community and law enforcement groups.

"When readers were asked to identify criminal suspects pictured in stories about violent crimes, they were more prone to misidentify African American than White suspects. The same readers, to a far lesser degree, tended to link White offenders more with nonviolent crime," says Dr. Mary Beth Oliver, associate professor of communications and co-director of the Media Effects Laboratory at Penn State University.

Oliver notes, "Essentially, people's `mismemories' of violent crime news seem to implicate all Black men rather than the specific individuals who are actually pictured."

The Penn State researcher and her co-author, Dana Fonash, assistant director of development with The Second Mile in State College, Pa., published their findings in the paper, "Race and Crime in the News: Whites' Identification and Misidentification of Violent and Nonviolent Criminal Suspects," which appeared recently in the journal Media Psychology.

In their study, the researchers asked a sample of White participants to examine a series of brief newspaper accounts of both violent and nonviolent crime, involving both Black and White male suspects. The newspaper briefs included an equal number of Black and White photographs as well as photos of Black and White people in non-crime news stories. …

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