Stereotypes can affect memory when identifying criminal suspects

December 19, 2002

Research by a Penn State media studies expert reveals that memory of crime stories with the suspects' pictures reflects racial stereotypes, and African-Americans are especially likely to be mistakenly identified for perpetrators of violent crimes, an issue being discussed nationally by community and law enforcement groups.

"When readers were asked to identify criminal suspects pictured in stories about violent crimes, they were more prone to misidentify African-American than White suspects. The same readers, to a far lesser degree, tended to link White offenders more with non-violent crime," says Dr. Mary Beth Oliver, associate professor of communications and co-director of the Media Effects Laboratory at Penn State.

Oliver notes, "Essentially, people's 'mismemories' of violent crime news seem to implicate all Black men rather than the specific individuals who are actually pictured."

The Penn State researcher and her co-author, Dana Fonash, assistant director of development with The Second Mile in State College, Pa., published their findings in the paper, "Race and Crime in the News: Whites' Identification and Misidentification of Violent and Nonviolent Criminal Suspects," which appeared recently in the journal Media Psychology.

In their study, the researchers asked a sample of White participants to examine a series of brief newspaper accounts of both violent and nonviolent crime, involving both Black and White male suspects. The newspaper briefs included an equal number of Black and White photographs as well as photos of Black and White people in non-crime news stories. Afterwards, the researchers asked participants to examine a sequence of photographs and identify who had been highlighted in the news stories.

"In essence, our findings support the notion that stereotypes of Black men as violent criminals are reflected in what people recall from news reports," Oliver says. "This kind of 'mismemory' has many implications ranging from issues related to law enforcement to issues related to everyday activities such as greater fear or distrust of others."

The study indicated also that self-reported racial attitudes, no matter how prejudiced or enlightened, had no impact on participants' ability to correctly identify the race of a criminal suspect. This suggests that Whites may not realize the degree to which deeply imbedded stereotypes tamper with their memories.

"The stereotyping of Blacks as dangerous or criminal is a bias that can result in tragic consequences," Oliver says. "Given the prevalence and consistency of this stereotype, there is little doubt that its existence is a reflection of a great number of social and political variables. However, Americans' reliance on news for information about crime points to the need for more extensive explorations of the role that the media may play in creating or sustaining these negative attitudes."

She adds, "The results of this study suggest that the processing of crime news can result in confusions that may implicate essentially any individual in the committing of violent crime, particularly Blacks who fit the 'profile' of the dangerous, violent criminal."
-end-


Penn State

Related Memory Articles from Brightsurf:

Memory of the Venus flytrap
In a study to be published in Nature Plants, a graduate student Mr.

Memory protein
When UC Santa Barbara materials scientist Omar Saleh and graduate student Ian Morgan sought to understand the mechanical behaviors of disordered proteins in the lab, they expected that after being stretched, one particular model protein would snap back instantaneously, like a rubber band.

Previously claimed memory boosting font 'Sans Forgetica' does not actually boost memory
It was previously claimed that the font Sans Forgetica could enhance people's memory for information, however researchers from the University of Warwick and the University of Waikato, New Zealand, have found after carrying out numerous experiments that the font does not enhance memory.

Memory boost with just one look
HRL Laboratories, LLC, researchers have published results showing that targeted transcranial electrical stimulation during slow-wave sleep can improve metamemories of specific episodes by 20% after only one viewing of the episode, compared to controls.

VR is not suited to visual memory?!
Toyohashi university of technology researcher and a research team at Tokyo Denki University have found that virtual reality (VR) may interfere with visual memory.

The genetic signature of memory
Despite their importance in memory, the human cortex and subcortex display a distinct collection of 'gene signatures.' The work recently published in eNeuro increases our understanding of how the brain creates memories and identifies potential genes for further investigation.

How long does memory last? For shape memory alloys, the longer the better
Scientists captured live action details of the phase transitions of shape memory alloys, giving them a better idea how to improve their properties for applications.

A NEAT discovery about memory
UAB researchers say over expression of NEAT1, an noncoding RNA, appears to diminish the ability of older brains to form memories.

Molecular memory can be used to increase the memory capacity of hard disks
Researchers at the University of Jyväskylä have taken part in an international British-Finnish-Chinese collaboration where the first molecule capable of remembering the direction of a magnetic above liquid nitrogen temperatures has been prepared and characterized.

Memory transferred between snails
Memories can be transferred between organisms by extracting ribonucleic acid (RNA) from a trained animal and injecting it into an untrained animal, as demonstrated in a study of sea snails published in eNeuro.

Read More: Memory News and Memory Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.