Implicit Racial Attitudes and Law Enforcement Shooting Decisions

50 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2009

Date Written: July 14, 2009


Recent cases of police shootings of unarmed Black men have led to a flurry of research on how race may affect the decision of police to shoot. The current study examines how levels of implicit racial bias in samples of both police cadets and college students predict performance on a simulated shooting task. Police cadets had stronger implicit biases against Blacks than college students. Cadets also displayed higher levels of explicit racial bias (as measured by the Modern Racism Scale). Results from the simulated shooter task replicated past results, with armed Black targets yielding the fastest reaction times across groups. However, IAT scores did not predict reaction times on the shooter task, but did predict the number of mistakes made when the target was Black and unarmed. Explicit racial bias correlated with reaction time and mistakes made on the task. These results suggest that future research on implicit bias in law enforcement officers may be fruitful, especially as it relates to shooting decisions.

Keywords: implicit attitudes, stereotyping, IAT, shooter task

JEL Classification: K14

Suggested Citation

Tuttle, Katherine M. Knight, Implicit Racial Attitudes and Law Enforcement Shooting Decisions (July 14, 2009). CELS 2009 4th Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper, Available at SSRN: or

Katherine M. Knight Tuttle (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

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