Stereotyping plays a significant role in human behavior and is known to impact police and citizen interactions. In many instances circular feedback loops operate – sometimes unconsciously – that impact the interaction between individual citizens and members of law enforcement This was first identified when describing how school-age students respond to teacher stereotype expectations “When we use stereotypes, we take in the gender, the age, the color of the skin of the person before us, and our minds respond with messages that say hostile, stupid, slow, weak. I know this to be true having been labeled “pathetic” at age 8 by a third grade teacher. I was active, curious, and inattentive. But I was not pathetic yet I sometimes feel this way even now. “Those (personal) qualities aren’t out there in the environment. They don’t reflect reality.” according to John Pargh, Ph.D. The subtle, somewhat hostile incredulity shown to me as a young child had an impact in my effort, learning style, and self-image. I learned much later in life that the teacher I describe had more than a few problems that had nothing to do with me. But still I have lingering doubts and understand the power of stereotyping.
These signs are independent of an individuals’ guilt or danger, and rather reflect a situationally- based psychological process, called social identity threat. Police officers undergo defensive tactics instruction throughout their formal academy training learning pre-attack danger indicators and methods of managing the threats associated with physical attack. This post hopes to connect the pre-attack signs with the social psychological literature on stereotype threat.
“Stereotype threat refers to the concern that stereotyped group members experience when they are in a situation where they might be negatively judged by a group stereotype (Steele 1997). This psychological threat produces high levels of anxiety, physiological stress, and impaired cognitive processes, as individuals are concerned about negative treatment based on their identity (Bosson et al. 2004; Osborne 2006; Schmader and Johns 2003).”