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Why We See Guns That Aren’t There.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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When George Zimmerman saw Trayvon Martin walking down the street in Sanford, Florida, he quickly assumed that the Black, hoodie-clad teenager was carrying a weapon. In Zimmerman’s own words, “He’s got his hand in his waistband. And he’s a black male. … Something’s wrong with him. Yup, he’s coming to check me out. He’s got something in his hands. I don’t know what his deal is. … These assholes, they always get away.”1

Although many still debate the subsequent sequence of events and whether or not Zimmerman was acting in self-defense, the incident ended with Zimmerman pulling out his own gun and fatally shooting Martin. Who, ultimately, was unarmed.2

The fact that George Zimmerman assumed so quickly that Trayvon Martin was reaching for a weapon smacks of obvious racial prejudice. It ended up being a tragic assumption that led to the death of an innocent young student, who had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time. But was this mistake unique to Zimmerman in particular? Unfortunately, a 2002 study by psychologist Joshua Correll suggests that your average, run-of-the-mill college student might have made a similar snap judgment.

If you had a split second to decide whether or not to shoot someone in front of you, do you think you would shoot? Do you think the other person’s skin color would matter? To test the idea that people might respond differently to Black and White targets, Correll and colleagues designed a first-person shooting game to test how ordinary people might make the split-second decision to either shoot or not shoot a potentially armed target, otherwise known as the Police Officer’s Dilemma.

Groups of college students were told that a series of people would come on the screen in front of them and would either be holding a gun or a neutral object, like a wallet, aluminum can, or cell phone. If the participants correctly shot an armed target, they would receive 10 points; if they correctly refrained from shooting an unarmed target, they would receive 5 points. Shooting an unarmed target deducted 20 points, and not shooting an armed target – the most potentially dangerous outcome for a real police officer on the streets – would result in the harshest penalty of all, a 40-point deduction.

As each target appeared on screen, participants had to decide as quickly as possible if the target was holding a gun or a harmless object by pushing buttons labeled either “Shoot” or “Don’t Shoot.” Unbeknownst to participants, the researchers had manipulated one critical feature of the targets – some of the targets were White, and some of the targets were Black.

The researchers ultimately found a clear case of what they termed shooter bias. Over a series of four studies, participants were faster to (correctly) shoot an armed target when he was Black, and faster to (correctly) decide not to shoot an unarmed target when he was White. But the truly interesting (and tragic) finding emerges when studying the cases where people accidentally chose to shoot targets who were holding wallets or cell phones. As it turns out, the participants were consistently more likely to accidentally shoot an unarmed target when he was Black.

Surely this must be influenced by racism, thought the researchers. After all, it would certainly make sense that racist people would be more likely to jump to the conclusion that Black people are armed. Wouldn’t non-racist people be more likely to disregard the color of the target’s skin when making judgments? Wouldn’t non-racist people – especially those who are well aware of the negative stereotypes towards Black people in American culture, and those who consciously try to fight against prejudice in their everyday lives – be more forgiving on the trigger?

Unfortunately, that hypothesis could not be further from the truth. First of all, no matter how explicitly racist the participants were (or were not), they were equally likely to shoot unarmed Black targets; self-reported and implicitly measured racism did not have any relation to shooter bias. However, one thing did predict performance on the task – the participants’ level of awareness that there is prejudice towards Black people in American society, even if the participant adamantly did not support those stereotypes. Simply being highly aware of prejudice in the world, even if you don’t agree with, support, or like that prejudice, makes it more likely that you might make the fateful mistake of shooting an unarmed target when making split-second decisions in uncertain conditions. The more aware you are of cultural stereotypes, the more likely you are to make a biased mistake.

Dismissing what happened to Trayvon Martin by pinning the entire tragedy on Zimmerman’s racism and failing to acknowledge the cultural forces that may have been at work on his behavior is a dismissal of years of social psychological research that has tried over and over again to hammer in the importance of situational forces. Correll’s research demonstrated that everyone – even an upstanding college undergraduate lacking any explicit or implicit racial prejudice – is vulnerable to making racially biased decisions, particularly under the split-second pressures of the Police Officer’s Dilemma. Did racism motivate George Zimmerman’s actions against Trayvon Martin? Probably. But does a person have to be racist to make the same split-second judgment? No.

When you grow up in a culture that endorses certain stereotypes, they become ingrained in your cultural knowledge. Even if you don’t actually endorse those stereotypes, they can still impact your behavior in horrifying ways. A study from the 1940s demonstrated that young Black girls often preferred to play with White-skinned dolls over Black-skinned dolls, presumably because they were growing up in a culture endorsing the idea that White = Beautiful. And importantly, when the “shooting game” task was given to Black participants, they were just as likely to accidentally shoot unarmed Black targets as the White participants were.

At the end of the day, it’s not always about whether or not you are racist, or whether or not you think that Black people are violent. Cultural stereotypes can become automatically activated and applied to our behaviors even when we don’t actually endorse them. The sheer knowledge that these stereotypes exist can be enough to influence our judgments, especially when it comes to split-second decisions that often rely on heuristics and automatic mental associations. Because of cultural stereotypes, the shooters in Correll’s games had a lower threshold for when they would decide it was OK to shoot at Black targets, even though most of them probably could not have told you that this was happening, and most of them would have been appalled to discover that they had unknowingly acted on these implicit biases.

Personalities and racial attitudes are important, yes. But cultural and situational forces are important too.

This is certainly not meant to excuse Zimmerman’s actions, nor is it meant to say that anyone else in that situation would have shot Trayvon Martin. After all, we now know that Zimmerman had called 911 an alarming number of times in the past, simply to report the presence of Black people that he felt looked “suspicious.” We also know that Zimmerman followed Martin even when the police had explicitly instructed him not to do so. There are a lot of complicating factors in this case. I was not there, and I can only write about this incident with the knowledge that I have gleaned as an outside observer who has read the police reports and watched media coverage of the incident and subsequent trial.

However, writing off this tragedy to the uniquely prejudiced actions of Zimmerman himself ignores a much deeper problem that merits all of our consideration:

What are the consequences of growing up in a world that is planting the seeds of racism deep within our minds every day?

1. These quotes are taken from the transcript of George Zimmerman’s call to 911, which can be found here. Ellipses indicate where content was omitted, mostly about how old Martin looked and what he was wearing.

2. As an astute commenter notes, this is not a perfect example of the Police Officer’s Dilemma as Zimmerman did not shoot Martin because he thought that Martin was reaching for a gun. In fact, the infamous case of Amadou Diallo would probably be a more appropriate example of this particular scenario, as the shooting in this case actually did involve Diallo reaching for a wallet and the police officers mistakenly assuming that he was reaching for a gun. However, I do believe it is clear that snap judgments contributed to why Zimmerman chose to follow Martin & why there was ultimately a confrontation that ended in Martin’s death; without these snap judgments, Zimmerman likely would not have noticed Martin reaching for his waistband or thought that his presence was “suspicious” in the first place. Even if Zimmerman was ultimately acting in self-defense, the confrontation and altercation did unambiguously occur because of an initial suspicion on Zimmerman’s part — a suspicion likely due (at least in part) to the implicit cultural associations discussed in this post. I have slightly edited this post from its original form to make this distinction clearer.

Note #1: Psychological aspects of the Trayvon Martin case have been covered very well elsewhere in the blogosphere as well. Some particularly good examples are here and here.

Note #2: Due to the sensitive nature of this topic, the comment section will be more heavily moderated than usual. Please be aware that comments will not be allowed if they contain anything that can be construed as hate speech, or if they defame the author of this post, Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, Martin’s family, Zimmerman’s family, the jurors in this case, or anyone else involved. Threats and/or personal insults will not be tolerated.

Correll, J., Park, B., Judd, C.M., & Wittenbrink, B. (2002). The police officer’s dilemma: Using ethnicity to disambiguate potentially threatening individuals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83 (6), 1314-29 PMID: 12500813

Correll, J., Wittenbrink, B., Park, B., Judd, C., & Goyle, A. (2011). Dangerous enough: Moderating racial bias with contextual threat cues. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47 (1), 184-189 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2010.08.017

Image Credits:

Photograph of Trayvon Martin released by his family via Wikipedia; available under free use.

A slightly different version of this piece was posted on the Scientific American Guest Blog in March 2012. You can read the original post by clicking the From The Archives icon on the left.

Melanie Tannenbaum About the Author: Melanie Tannenbaum is a doctoral candidate in social psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she received an M.A. in social psychology in 2011. Her research focuses on the science of persuasion & motivation regarding political, health-related, and environmental behavior. You can add her on Twitter or visit her personal webpage. Follow on Twitter @melanietbaum.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. ktkeith 1:28 pm 07/27/2013

    This is an important and powerful article, and the research cited is of great significance.

    However, the use of the Trayvon Martin case to illustrate the issue is problematic. First, the transcript of George Zimmerman’s 911 call is not entirely accurate. The comment “he’s a black male” reiterates the answer to the dispatcher’s explicit request for a racial description, just a few seconds previously; taken out of that context, it distorts Zimmerman’s implied focus on race. Second, the transcribed text is not a non-sequitur stream of consciousness, as the written text seems to suggest, but is in fact a series of responses to different comments and questions by the dispatcher, and several less-inflammatory remarks (including Zimmerman’s request for police intervention) are removed from the transcript above without acknowledgement. In addition, the shooting in the Martin case occurred during a physical fight between Martin and Zimmerman, in which Zimmerman claimed (whether or not realistically, or even truthfully) that Martin had mad a grab for his gun and he felt his life was in danger. The description “people accidentally chose to shoot targets who were holding wallets or cell phones, much like what happened in the real-life case of Trayvon Martin” is simply completely inapplicable to the Martin case; there was never a suggestion in that case that the actual shooting (as opposed to Zimmerman’s initial suspicions) involved mistaking a wallet for a gun. (That was in fact the exact situation in the infamous Amadou Diallo case in New York City, 13 years previously, which would have been a much more relevant, though not recent, illustration for this article.)

    I am not defending George Zimmerman, his mindset, or his actions. I believe his actions were unjustified and the killing of Trayvon Martin was the equivalent of murder, regardless of the legal loopholes that allowed Zimmerman to get away with it. But, precisely because the Zimmerman case is so polarizing, and reporting on it has been so inflammatory (and often false), it is important to get the facts right when using that case in discussions of social patterns or policy-making. Zimmerman did many things wrongly, and seems very clearly to have had a belligerent and prejudiced state of mind that led him into an ultimately fatal encounter with Trayvon Martin that would not have occurred absent Zimmerman’s deliberately seeking a confrontation, and his bad judgment. But it is not the case that Zimmerman shot Martin because he was insufficiently perceptive to distinguish a wallet from a gun; that had nothing to do with the outcome, and in fact Zimmerman never claimed he shot Martin because he believed Martin was carrying a gun of his own. He shot him at less than arm’s length while he and Martin were struggling over Zimmerman’s gun, which – though undoubtedly the result of prejudice of a certain kind – has nothing to do with “The Police Officer’s Dilemma”.

    This useful article should not have diluted its own conclusions with an off-point and inflammatory example.

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  2. 2. Melanie Tannenbaum in reply to Melanie Tannenbaum 1:57 pm 07/27/2013

    Thank you for your helpful and respectful comment ktkeith. You are right. I will amend this appropriately when I return to my computer. I’m glad you appreciated the overall message of the post.

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  3. 3. josh.doyle 3:11 pm 07/27/2013

    Another error here is the notion that the police told Zimmerman not to follow Trayvon. This rumor is prevalent despite having no basis. Not only did Zimmerman not have direct contact with any police officers prior to the shooting, he was never told not to follow Trayvon. While he was on the phone with the 911 operator, he got out of his truck and started running in Trayvon’s direction. The operator asked Zimmerman if he was following Trayvon and Zimmerman said he was. The operator responded “We don’t need you to do that.”

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  4. 4. Melanie Tannenbaum in reply to Melanie Tannenbaum 4:22 pm 07/27/2013

    Sure. However, it is fairly safe to infer that “We don’t need you to do that” indicates that they were telling him not to do that. Especially since there are no other more probable interpretations.

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  5. 5. josh.doyle 4:52 pm 07/27/2013

    It indicates nothing of the sort. The operator says that so that he is not liable for any actions that result. He testified as much in the first video on this page at at roughly 4:20:

    Even if he had explicitly told Zimmerman not to follow, it would have carried no legal weight.

    The point still stands that the police never told Zimmerman not to follow Trayvon.

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  6. 6. Melanie Tannenbaum in reply to Melanie Tannenbaum 5:00 pm 07/27/2013

    You’re entitled to this opinion, but I (and many others) happen to disagree about how that statement should have been interpreted. Nevertheless, I’m not going to argue semantics here.

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  7. 7. Pazuzu 5:10 pm 07/27/2013

    I agree with the previous commenters that this is an important article. The Harvard Implicit Association test is highly relevant here: It’s avery clever way at getting unconscious biases we all have as a result from living in our society.

    Personally, I was dismayed at myself when I took the test; it made me wonder if I’d been kidding myself since the 1950s, around the time I became an anti-racist activist. Then it turned out that Black Americans score pretty much like I did. As the author points out, this garbage seeps into our perceptual system from an early age. Even a Black cop can engage in clearly racist behavior, such as racist shootings, stop and frisk, and the like, at least in part because of this pernicious process.

    By the way, I was also dismayed to discover that the bias against old people is particularly virulent. Even I had that bias, and I’m old by any definition.

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  8. 8. KBCash 5:43 pm 07/27/2013

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  9. 9. johnjerr 6:10 pm 07/27/2013

    This may have been mentioned in the comments history already, but the quote used from the 911 call is from the modified MSNBC script – that is not how the conversation went between Mr. Zimmerman and the 911 operator. The 911 operator asked George Zimmerman if the person he was was white or black, and he stated “I think he is black.” I don’t know MSNBC’s motives for certain, but would take the liberty of guessing that they modified their script to make Mr. Zimmerman appear as a racist. Also, I have seen nothing in the actual scripts where Mr. Zimmerman stated that he believed Trayvon was armed. The author of this article appears to have assumed that and is probably incorrect. Does anyone have any real information backing up that assumption? The law – Stand Your Ground or Otherwise – does not require your assailant to be armed before the use of deadly force is allowed. It requires the fear that an assailant is using deadly force by any means.

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  10. 10. JodySchmidt 6:12 pm 07/27/2013

    This is unsettling. I would gladly attach myself to a system like in Total Recall or The Matrix in order to rid myself of such deeply rooted bias. Since that is unlikely to materialize in the next decade, we must all accept the fact that we carry around this despicable disgusting functionally instinctive bias against people of color, no matter how much our emotions or conscious minds protest. Depressing.

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  11. 11. johnjerr 6:14 pm 07/27/2013

    Also, a 911 operator is not a police officer on the scene and is not qualified to tell someone what to do on the scene of a possible crime. A 911 operator cannot “order me” to do anything. If I am in the company of a police officer and that officer instructs me to do something, then that is a different matter. Only a citizen or law enforcement en situ can make decisions regarding their safety or the safety of their property and neighborhood.

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  12. 12. curiouswavefunction 6:23 pm 07/27/2013

    Nice post. When news of Zimmerman’s acquittal broke, it was interesting to see so many of my Facebook acquaintances making the fundamental attribution error.

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  13. 13. rkipling 8:56 pm 07/27/2013

    Ms. Tannenbaum,

    As usual you have presented an insightful and well written article. I agree with most of your analysis of this subject. Here are a few of my thoughts.

    1. Either Zimmerman or Martin could have defused this incident. Zimmerman could have made the rational choice to stay in his car. Martin could have chosen to go directly home because, from evidence presented at trial, it seems he had time to do that.

    2. My guess is that Zimmerman at 5’7” was emboldened by carrying a gun. Without the gun it seems unlikely he would have exited his truck. Had I been in that situation, I would not have had a gun nor felt the necessity to get out of my car. One of the witnesses at trial made the comment that no one should carry a gun unless they have the training and physical strength to control the weapon. That makes a strong case against most people carrying guns.

    3. Evidence from the trial indicates it is likely that Martin waited to confront Zimmerman and likely threw the first punch. I’m speculating, but it seems likely Martin didn’t like being suspected of wrongdoing, saw the guy watching him was smaller, and figured he could make him pay for his disrespect.

    4. A reasonable approach by even one of the two people would likely have saved Martin’s life.

    What I believe is missing from this discussion are actual crime statistics. I saw a report that said that young black men commit homicides 10 times more frequently than white and Hispanic men combined. Also reported, if memory serves correctly, while young black men make up a single digit percentage of the population (it might have been 6 %.), they commit over 50% of all crimes. (I’m not sure of the exact numbers, but it was something like that.) Anyway the point is that given the crime statistics, it is not irrational nor necessarily racist to consider young black men more dangerous. Jessie Jackson has even said that when he notices someone following him, he is relieved when they turn out to be white. My guess is that the underlying crime statistics are a factor is the study you site.

    The most significant point about the Zimmerman case is that from a legal standpoint only what was happening during the fight actually matters. What led up to the confrontation was legally irrelevant. To convict Zimmerman, the jury needed to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman did not act in self-defense. The jury did not make that finding.

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  14. 14. Pazuzu 9:21 pm 07/27/2013

    In response to JodyScmidt: it’s not that depressing, because we can fight it. One Harvard researcher into the Implicit Association test, upset at her own implicit bias against dark skinned people, posted pictures of dark skinned people she admired all around her office and home. You can effectively work on our own head.

    We are conscious, sentient and self actualizing creatures who are not slaves to our own internal biases. It’s deeply satisfying to work with others for the common good, and that can totally overwhelm whatever biases we harbor.

    On another note, I notice some commenters seem to miss the point of this article. We know Zimmerman wasn’t a bigoted pig in that he took a black woman to his high school prom and he tutored black youngsters. But we also know that he had a mindset that led him to perceive black people in that neighborhood as “up to no good.” He went out on “patrol” as a “volunteer” with a loaded weapon with that attitude; this was apparently a common practice of his. I understand that he frequently called the police about people in the neighborhood, and apparently he once called the police on a nine year old black child. If he hadn’t killed Trayvon, we would have just written him off as a pathetic cop wannabe.

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  15. 15. LuciusCornelius 12:57 am 07/28/2013

    Nice review of the shooting game research and the police officers dilemma.

    However, I am a little disturbed by several few factual errors in the introduction and some of the insinuations about the Zimmerman case that are not borne out by established facts.

    For instance, Zimmerman did *not* call 911, he called a non-emergency number. When advised that he doesn’t need to follow the suspect, he responded with “ok” and all evidence is consistent with the notion that he did not follow Martin after that.

    Moreover, there is no evidence that race was even a factor in this whole sorry affair. Zimmerman volunteered “black” after a direct question by the dispatcher. He did note – as you point out – unsolicited – that there seems something “wrong” about him. This is indeed the case. If you review the cctv footage from the 7/11, the movements are indeed strangely off.

    At this point, no one disputes that there was a physical altercation leading to lacerations on Zimmermans head; put differently, this is really a different paradigm from the split-second interactions in the shooter game.

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  16. 16. LuciusCornelius 1:03 am 07/28/2013

    @Pazuzu: I can see that your heart is in the right place, but the facts are inconsistent with this view as well. Here is a breakdown of the calls Zimmerman made to the police before this tragic incident (done by a widely respected academic in the field).
    It is crucial to get the facts right, particularly in such an emotionally charged atmosphere.

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  17. 17. US Sciam Reader 1:52 am 07/28/2013

    This is a great blog and I am definitely glad that you brought up the research by Correll,

    It reminds me of the conversation an interviewer (Mike Wallace) had with Morgan Freeman about Black History month. In it, he opined that the way to get rid of racism is to stop talking about it.

    In your blog, you also mentioned that GZ had called 911 an “alarming number of times” about black males being suspicious. According to the call summary obtained by the Daily Beast. Of the 46 calls found, GZ had called 911 only 17 times. The other calls were made to the police’s non-emergency numbers, however the call was answered by a 911 dispatcher (hence the recordings). Also, of these 46 calls, only 5 other calls (besides the 2 calls made about Trayvon Martin on the night of the shooting on Feb 26th) were explicitly related to observation of black males and suspicious activity.

    I am not justifying the shooting that GZ did and his killing of TM, but there’s a more nuanced history of GZ’s background and motivation, of owning/carrying a gun, and of his history of calling 911 – on top of the prevalent racial bias attitude (that you mention in your blog) in our country/society:

    Lastly, I am also wondering about whether GZ explicitly ignored the dispatcher’s quasi-instruction on not following TM. During the trial, the prosecution and the defense were in dispute on whether GZ continued to chase/run in the direction of TM or not – there did not seem to be enough facts to show one way or the other. The “911″ call itself also does not seem to provide enough info to make that definitive.

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  18. 18. Melanie Tannenbaum in reply to Melanie Tannenbaum 1:56 am 07/28/2013

    Good points, thank you for bringing them up and providing links. I’m glad you found the described research to be useful!

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  19. 19. US Sciam Reader 2:07 am 07/28/2013

    I found the primary source used for the “911″ call history.

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  20. 20. rkipling 4:25 am 07/28/2013

    This article and the moderation of comments stands as an impressive example of what a blog can achieve when the author is objective and participates in the comment discussion. Well done.
    (I can only imagine the intemperance of some comments that were filtered out. Also, please feel free to filter this particular comment out if my praise seems effusive.)

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  21. 21. Pazuzu 11:25 am 07/28/2013

    @curiouswavefunction: The example of Fundamental Attribution Error, which is a social psych concept describing people’s tendency to ascribe character attributes as an explanation for events that might be contextually caused, does not apply here. The wikipedia link you provide gives an example of a driver who witnesses another driver run a red light and assumes the person is generally a bad driver; however, the light-runner might be an excellent driver who was making an emergency run to the hospital.

    The concerned public’s view of Zimmerman is not an example of this because Zimmerman was out on “patrol” frequently and he carried a loaded gun with him at least some of the time. I don’t know whether there are technical terms in psychology to refer to people like that, but he seems to have some sort of generalized “wannabe cop” mentality, but without the training or professionalism that society has a right to demand of people on “patrol” with loaded guns. The circumstances leading to the shooting do not constitute a one-off event created by the immediate situation.

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  22. 22. Pazuzu 11:35 am 07/28/2013

    @LuciusCornelius: I visited the (tediously long-winded!) faculty lounge site you mentioned. It’s totally immaterial to understanding this case. It’s not reasonable to assume that Zimmerman was somehow free of the implicit bias that affects all of us. The quip about the child may well be correct, and nobody has argued that the totality of his calls to police show bias. But he clearly engaged in reckless disregard for the life of a Black youngster who was posing no danger to anybody. Yet somehow the facts don’t support the view that Zimmerman’s actions were motivated at least in part by racial bias? That’s a reach.

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  23. 23. Pazuzu 12:31 pm 07/28/2013

    @rkipling: Your points #3 and 4 that the trial evidence indicates that Trayvon waited to jump Zimmerman is valid only if you decide to ignore the testimony of Rachel Jeantel (along with juror B37), the young woman he was talking on the telephone with when the event occurred; there’s a five hour youtube video if you’d care to spend a rainy afternoon that way, but the relevant statements are there. And the statements arising from Zimmerman’s conversation with the police dispatcher that Trayvon was running away from Zimmerman’s truck.

    IMHO, the most reasonable conclusion is that Trayvon first tried to run away and then, when that didn’t succeed, he tried to defend himself against his totally irrational assailant.

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  24. 24. US Sciam Reader 1:14 pm 07/28/2013

    Reuters published an article last year before the sensationalism of the case blew-up. It provides some explanation to the background of why GZ carries a gun, to the “911″ calls that he’d made reporting the suspicious black males. Between the reported break-ins to his immediate neighbor and his surrounding neighborhood – they coincide with those calls that he made to report the suspicious black males. The reports fit the generality of the description provided by the crime victims at the time.

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  25. 25. rkipling 4:07 pm 07/28/2013

    You are of course welcome to your opinion. Allow me to provide you with some points from the trial to better inform that opinion. After that I leave it to you to decide how humble it should have been.

    I watched Rachel Jeantel’s testimony. Based on her willingness to alter the truth for far less perceived personal advantage (age, name, hospitalization, etc.), I believe she would not have hesitated to lie if she thought it would advance the case against Zimmerman. So, no. I don’t put any credence in her testimony. But her testimony is unimportant because it is contradicted by direct evidence. The relevant evidence provided by Ms. Jeantel is the timeline established by the phone calls to the non-emergency police number and her phone records with Mr. Martin.

    Phone records are proof positive that there was about 4 minutes between when Zimmerman lost sight of Martin at about the sidewalk T intersection and when Martin’s phone disconnected. I don’t recall the exact distance from the T to the house where Martin was staying, but it was less than 100 yards. Typical walking speed for a human being is around 3 mph. That is 88 yards in one minute. Martin had four minutes and was running a one point. Martin had ample time to make it down the sidewalk straight to home. I’ll assume you can work the math word problem. He obviously chose not to go home. Whatever juror B37 may have thought or said doesn’t change the 4 minutes. Other evidence could be discussed, but that is unnecessary to prove the point.

    As far as Zimmerman being a totally irrational assailant, neither Pazuzu nor rkipling were there to observe. I get that you believe his actions were totally irrational. The evidence just wasn’t there to get the jury beyond reasonable doubt. I still contend that had either of the two acted rationally, Martin would still be alive. We all wish things had been different so that Martin would have lived. I dare say Mr. Zimmerman wishes that. Had Martin actually been an experienced malefactor, Zimmerman stood a good chance of having his gun taken away and being shot with it himself.

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  26. 26. curiouswavefunction 5:12 pm 07/28/2013

    #21: That is precisely the attribution error I am talking about, the assumption that Zimmerman committed a crime because his “wannabe cop” personality rather than because of the situation and its context. The attribution error ascribes behavior to inherent qualities and personality traits rather than situational details.

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  27. 27. anamanea 12:52 am 07/31/2013

    this is extremely preoccupying and scary! I hadn’t the time to read all article as I now have to leave, but from what I got, there is a link between level of bias awareness and bias itself! As if paradoxically being aware of bias and trying to change it reinforces it, how sad, yet I suppose in the long term it pays.

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  28. 28. Bizarre 2:25 pm 07/31/2013


    You are aware that the photograph featured with this article has been significantly doctored, correct? I’m not sure why we are using this photograph over a year after the tragic event. It does fit with the narrative that we ‘want’ to tell about the event, but reality is often more complicated – let us acknowledge that complexity.

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  29. 29. ChrisMartin76 5:30 pm 07/31/2013

    I think Joshua Correll does some fascinating research, but there are a few things to consider:

    1. In psychology, the study of stereotypes has been linked to the study of prejudice for a long time. As a result, all stereotypes were deemed to be the result of prejudice rather than accurate judgments about the world. This view is changing, but it happening slowly. There is now a great deal of evidence that (a) stereotypes tend to be accurate, (b) stereotyping is a very weak effect, and (c) the use of individuating information (i.e. the opposite of stereotyping) is a very strong effect. Lee Jussim wrote a book about this if you’re interested.

    2. Because stereotyping is still a politically sensitive area, there are almost no studies on whether negative stereotypes about “protected” groups are accurate. The only one I know of is about whether Blacks leave smaller restaurant tips than Whites, and it was run by economists not psychologists, if I remember correctly. However, Correll’s 2013 study shows that the rank order of shooter bias is Black, Hispanic, White, and Asian. This is the exactly the same rank order as per capita commission of violent crime in the U.S., which suggests that stereotype accuracy may be a factor. Note that Whites were more prone to shoot other Whites than they were to shoot Asians, so it was not an ingroup-outgroup effect.

    3. Correll and others who study this exclusively use young males as targets. However, the results often get reported in the media (and often psychology itself) as though they were generalizable. In order to be generalizable, these studies would have to use targets of both genders across a wide range of ages. One of the reasons psychologists do not do this is that using young males as targets produces the largest effect sizes.

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