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During one experiment, participants were asked to identify a simple shape on a computer screen and were distracted by images of white male faces, black male faces, individuals dressed in business suits and others dressed in hoodies. Researchers tracked and analyzed their reaction times to compare how long they were distracted by the various images.
Researchers were surprised to find no difference in reaction times and no evidence of racial profiling when the distractors were white or black faces. This is surprising, they say, because previous research, much of it conducted in the United States, has revealed that many people associate African Americans with crime. While more work is needed to explore this further, Obhi suggests the apparent lack of racial bias in the current study might highlight a potentially important difference between Canadian and American society.
The differences, however, were revealed when participants were distracted by photos of individuals wearing hoodies. Reaction times slowed, indicating that the images of hoodies were attention-grabbing. Critically, this bias towards hoodies only occurred when participants were wearing the police-style garb. "We know that clothing conveys meaning and that the hoodie has to some extent become a symbol of lower social standing and inner-city youth," says Obhi. "There is a stereotype out there that links hoodies with crime and violence, and this stereotype might be activated to a greater degree when donning the police style uniform. This may have contributed to the changes in attention that we observed. Given that attention shapes how we experience the world, attentional biases toward certain groups of people can be problematic."