Monday, July 16, 2007

Race, Crime, and Memory

A friend sent along this 2004 story from Science Daily on the relationship between perceptions of race and memory of crime. "If asked to imagine a criminal suspect, certain mental pictures come to mind for most people. According to a recent Penn State study concerning people's memory of news photographs, images that accentuate African-American facial features would be common, and particularly if the crime is violent rather than non-violent." Not that they were overtly racist. The participants "appeared largely unaware of their associations of violent crime with the physical characteristics of African-Americans, Oliver notes. The associations were present among the participants regardless of their self-reported racial attitudes." Said the researcher: "'We believe our results are noteworthy, especially the importance of visual information in a variety of law-enforcement scenarios. If African-American features are stereotypically associated with crime, this has implications for identifications in line-ups, for racial profiling, and for criminal prosecutions, among many other types of situations.'" Like sentencing?? Like corrections??? The challenge is there for all of us: "'Given that people report that news is their most important source of crime information, it's imperative that we look further at how viewers' interpretations and memory of crime news can act to sustain racism,' Oliver says. 'The idea that this type of stereotyping may occur largely outside of viewers' awareness will make it particularly challenging to curb these kinds of responses.'"

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