A video game tests racial bias – and the willingness to pull the trigger

Racial bias and the decision to shootJoshua Correll, a member of the University of Chicago Department of Psychology faculty, in conjunction with his work with the Stereotyping & Prejudice Research Laboratory, has created The Police Officer’s Dilemma, a video game that tests the effect of racial bias on decisions to shoot.

When you launch the game, you are presented with a series of images of young men against various backgrounds. Some of the men hold guns, while others hold innocent items like cellphones or soda cans. Half of the men are black and half are white. You must shoot all armed men but holster your gun at the sight of those who are unarmed. The game tests whether the target’s race influences the decision to shoot. The results are chilling:

Participants shoot an armed target more quickly and more often when that target is Black, rather than White. However, participants decide not to shoot an unarmed target more quickly and more often when the target is White, rather than Black. In essence, participants seem to process stereotype-consistent targets (armed Blacks and unarmed Whites) more easily than counterstereotypic targets (unarmed Blacks and armed Whites).

To play the game, you can test yourself with the beta version. You may be shocked by the results.

(Via On the Ground.)

7 responses to “A video game tests racial bias – and the willingness to pull the trigger

  1. I just took it and I was quicker to shoot armed white kids than armed black kids.

    My scores:
    Average reaction time:
    Black Armed:784.92ms
    Black Unarmed:793ms
    White Armed:757.52ms
    White Unarmed:822.48ms

    Definitely faster to differentiate for Black than White.

  2. My scores (rounded):
    Black Armed: 611ms
    Black Unarmed: 748ms
    White Armed: 607ms
    White Unarmed: 692ms

    This numbers make sense to me. Armed times are the fastest because guns are relatively easy to recognize (at least in this test). Times for Black Armed and White Armed are essentially the same.

    Unarmed times are considerably longer across the board because it took longer to process what the target was holding. My thought process probably went like this:
    Find target
    Find target’s hand
    Is it a gun? If yes, shoot.
    If no, what is it?

    I only holstered after categorically figuring out what the target was holding, so deciding it wasn’t a gun wasn’t enough, I needed to know what it was (wallet, phone, etc).

    Times for Black Unarmed is longer than White Unarmed for that reason. Dark hands and dark objects made it slightly more difficult to recognize the held object.

  3. Sort of for me.

    Average reaction time:
    Black Armed:708.76ms
    Black Unarmed:754.36ms
    White Armed:727.36ms
    White Unarmed:684ms

    I’m clearly faster at determining an unarmed white guy. I’m not sure that 20 ms is sufficient for that sample to say that I’m quicker to pull the trigger on armed black guys than white guys.

    My question is to formatting. I felt the way they led into pictures, and the backgrounds used led to quicker responses for certain scenes. I’d be curious to see how that skews results.

    I’m pretty sure though the two times I got it wrong was the reverse of my scores. I let an armed black guy shoot me, and I shot an unarmed white guy.

  4. Average reaction time:
    Black Armed:707.08ms
    Black Unarmed:809.96ms
    White Armed:734.68ms
    White Unarmed:756.04ms

    This may be one of the stupidest tests i have ever seen to try to dig into the mind of a person facing a life or death decision. Especially when considering that I tried as hard as i could to look at the hands, or where i thought the hands would be when the image appeared, and paid no attention to the face or other areas of the picture. The was no emotion involved in the test and any slight different in time to decide if a person was unarmed was due to a lack contrast between the color of the hand and the color of the object that was being held.

    Do cops give the benefit of doubt to white people over black people in certain neighborhoods? most likely. But this test can not prove or disprove that theory. Nor does it come close to doing anything but perpetuating the myth that police officers always assume the worse when encountering an African American.

    Stupid test, no credibility should be given to it.

  5. It doesn’t matter if certain variables are faster. It depends on if the time differences for race are significant or not. You have to approach this as a Psychologist doing the experiment. I would also like to know if there is a significant difference for the unarmed people.

  6. Captain Stealth

    I think mine was sort of spooky… Almost exactly the same for both.

    Average reaction time:
    Black Armed:578ms
    Black Unarmed:709.6ms
    White Armed:578.72ms
    White Unarmed:708.36ms

    For me, the only thing to be gained from this little exercise is determining whether or not the person is armed. And the test is very unrealistic – would be better if the ‘perp’ was walking or running toward or away from you. I think that would be a more telling indicator: are we more fearful of a black man or white man running toward us?

  7. Slightly Prejudiced?

    Your Score: 135
    Average reaction time:
    Black Armed:477.56ms
    Black Unarmed:645.88ms
    White Armed:494ms
    White Unarmed:547.52ms

    Looking at my numbers, it would appear I judge by color. I don’t consider myself racist; but, apparently I shoot quicker on Black Armed men, and I give the unarmed Black men a longer look before I decide not to shoot.