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Jumping the gun? An investigation of racial bias in the decisions to shoot

Mirashi, Arta (2012) Jumping the gun? An investigation of racial bias in the decisions to shoot. University of Portsmouth.


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Widely reported cases of police shootings of unarmed men from ethnic minority groups, have emphasised the significance of understanding erroneous shoot decisions. Extensive work over the past decade has demonstrated how race can bias perceptions and responses to threat. The ‘shooter bias’ paradigm was developed to examine the effects of a target‘s race on the decisions to shoot. Previous research has shown that individuals are quicker and more accurate to shoot armed Black/Middle-Easterner targets than Whites targets. This was supported by the notion that automatic shortcuts in cognitive processing mark associations of a stereotypical nature. However, previous research neglected to account for and control important contributors which influence shooting behaviours. Therefore, the present study re-examined the relationship between racial stereotypes towards Middle-Easterners in decisions to shoot. The framework used was a ‘shooter task’ which captured the shooting behaviours of eighty-four participants, to distinguish the shooter bias between White/Middle-Eastern targets, holding weapons/no-weapons, wearing turbans/balaclavas/no-headgear. Priming was used to promote stereotypes by linking the appropriate headgear with a relevant terrorist group (i.e. Al-Qaeda or Irish Republican Army (IRA)). As predicted, a weapon bias was evident, as participants made more accurate shoot decisions when weapons were present than when weapons were absent. Participants were also observed to be faster and more accurate in their decisions to shoot armed targets. However, the results showed no effect of race, headgear or priming on the accuracy of shoot decisions, as accurate shoot decisions were equally distributed across target race, headgear and terrorist-prime conditions. These findings did not support past work, as stereotypically driven racial biases in the decisions to shoot were not detected.

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