Law enforcement and police use of force have been shown to be unevenly distributed by race. Black Americans are much more likely to be pulled over by the police while driving, stopped as pedestrians (stop and frisk), and the target of excessive use of force, as compared to their white counterparts. Social scientists have argued that part of this uneven enforcement stems from deep historical and socio-political factors, but psychologists focus on a proximal factor, in the form of stereotypes. Stereotypes, or fixed, overgeneralized belief about a particular group or class of people, can lead to prejudice when people emotionally react to the name of a group, ascribe particular characteristics to members of that group, and pass judgment on or evaluate those characteristics. Some research suggests that emotional attributes might be strong predictors of discriminatory behavior.
Social psychologists Kurt Gray, Keith Payne and Jazmin Brown-Iannuzzi suggest that another level of stereotype, moral typecasting, has the potential to explain discriminatory behavior because it provides the moral force that motivates and justifies biased behavior. The investigators define moral typecasting as the idea that we see others as moral agents who do immoral deeds (criminals) or as moral patients who are the targets of moral deeds (victims). They will explore whether moral typecasting can help explain aggressive law enforcement tactics towards non-whites, especially black men. They will examine the role of typecasting in situations of heightened ambiguity, such as adolescence (not a child but not an adult) and whether this leads law enforcement to be especially biased against black adolescent males.