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CURRENT DIRECTIONS IN PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE Weapon Bias Split-Second Decisions and Unintended Stereotyping

By B. Keith Payne


ABSTRACT—Race stereotypes can lead people to claim to see a weapon where there is none. Split-second decisions magnify the bias by limiting people’s ability to control responses. Such a bias could have important consequences for decision making by police officers and other authorities interacting with racial minorities. The bias requires no intentional racial animus, occurring even for those who are actively trying to avoid it. This research thus raises difficult questions about intent and responsibility for racially biased errors. KEYWORDS—implicit; attitude; stereotyping; prejudice; weapon The trouble with split-second decisions is that they seem to make themselves. It is not simply that snap decisions are less accurate than ‘‘snail’ ’ decisions; it is easy to understand why people might make random errors when thinking fast. If you only have 30 seconds, it is probably a bad idea to do your taxes, pick a stock, or solve any problem beginning with ‘‘Two trains leave the station...’ ’ The real puzzle is when snap judgments show systematic biases that differ from our considered decisions. Should I consider those decisions my decisions if they differ from my intentions? Who is responsible? These questions are asked most loudly when decisions have immense consequences, as when a split-second decision has to be made by a surgeon, a soldier, or a police officer. Four New York City police officers had to make that kind of decision while patrolling the Bronx on a February night in 1999. When the officers ordered Amadou Diallo to stop because he matched a suspect’s description, Diallo reacted unexpectedly. Rather than raising his hands, he reached for his pocket. The Ghanaian immigrant may have misunderstood the order, or maybe he meant to show his identification. The misunderstanding was mutual: One officer shouted, ‘‘Gun!’ ’ and the rest opened fire

Year: 2013
OAI identifier: oai:CiteSeerX.psu:
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