Shooting Deaths of Unarmed Racial Minorities: Understanding the Role of Racial Stereotypes on Decisions to Shoot

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The shootings of Amadou Diallo, Michael Brown, and other unarmed African Americans by police officers propelled social psychological research regarding the influence of racial stereotypes on decisions to shoot. Using the full-cycle model as a frame, we contextualize the shootings of unarmed minorities and the empirical research on how racial stereotypes affect perception and behavior. Focusing on the “shooter bias” phenomenon, we detail what social psychological research knows about decisions to shoot in nonpolice samples and what needs further empirical research. We highlight the complexity and dynamic nature of shooting decisions and the need for more translational research with police officers to fully understand the potential effect. Next, we examine empirical interventions that aim to reduce the applicability of activated stereotypes on shooting behavior. Finally, we finish with a discussion of the practical implications that this research has for police, training, and community relations.

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