Attending to Threat: Race-based Patterns of Selective Attention

Author: Trawalter, S.; Todd, A.R.; Baird, A.A.; Richeson, J.A.

Description: The present research investigated the extent to which the stereotype that young Black men are threatening and dangerous has become so robust and ingrained in the collective American unconscious that Black men now capture attention, much like evolved threats such as spiders and snakes. Specifically, using a dot-probe detection paradigm, White participants revealed biased attention toward Black faces relative to White faces (Study 1). Because the faces were presented only briefly (30-ms), the bias is thought to reflect the early engagement of attention. The attentional bias was eliminated, however, when the faces displayed averted eye-gaze (Study 2). That is, when the threat communicated by the Black faces was attenuated by a relevant, competing socio-emotional cue- in this case, averted eye-gaze-they no longer captured perceivers’ attention. Broader implications for social cognition, as well as public policies that reify these prevailing perceptions of young Black men are discussed.

Subject headings: Racial and ethnic attitudes; Social perception; Social cognition; Visual attention; Threat

Publication year: 2008

Journal or book title: Journal of Experimental Social Psychology

Volume: 44

Issue: 5

Pages: 1322-1327

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Type: Journal Article

Serial number: 1134