Let me just say this from the beginning: this “study” is complete BS. And I don’t say that from an ideological point of view, I say that as someone who respects things like truth and logic. NPR is touting this recent “study” (published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology) as proof that people are racist and more willing to shoot a black person than a white person, but there are a few major issues.
A new meta-analysis set out to answer that question. Yara Mekawi of the University of Illinois and her co-author, Konrad Bresin, drew together findings from 42 different studies on trigger bias to examine whether race affects how likely a target is to be shot.
“What we found is that it does,” Mekawi tells NPR’s Arun Rath. “In our study we found two main things: First, people were quicker to shoot black targets with a gun, relative to white targets with a gun. And … people were more trigger-happy when shooting black targets compared to shooting white targets.”
That is, shooters weren’t just faster to fire at black targets; they were also more likely to fire at a black target.
They also correlated the results with the Brady Campaign scores and “found” that states with less restrictive gun laws had people who were more likely to shoot black people.
[We] coded the cities in which the data was collected by how permissive the gun laws were. And we used the Brady Law campaign, which gives basically states a score … being very permissive, this means that, you know, they didn’t require background checks in the same way that other, more strict states might or have other limitations on who’s allowed to purchase a gun. …
Basically, what we found was that in states that had relatively permissive gun laws, the shooting threshold for black targets was lower than for white targets.
This “study” is a “meta analysis” of fifty research studies undertaken by budding psychologists at various universities. For those who aren’t familiar with the way these studies work, psychology students come up with ridiculous premises for studies (typically designed to appeal to their liberal professors and get as much publicity as possible), and then professors coerce their students to participate in exchange for class credit. So right off the bat the premise of the research is fairly biased, as the entire point is to be as controversial as possible.
For this specific study no actual direct observation was done. Instead, the researchers simply gathered up about fifty different studies and directly compared their results. As the researchers themselves admit, the results weren’t always the same.
Laboratory shooter tasks have yielded mixed results regarding racial shooter biases
Comparing different studies from different researchers that have had different results and trying to get a cohesive answer? Yeah, awesome, good luck with that. The only criteria they had for including the studies was that they had the participants making quick decisions about whether the person was holding a gun.
Our inclusion criteria was pretty much that they used what’s called a first-person shooter task. … Participants are generally told that police officers are often put in high-stress situations where they have to make very quick shooting decisions.
And so they are presented with images of targets from various races that either have a gun or have some kind of neutral object. So, sometimes it’s a soda can; other times it’s a cellphone. And what they’re told is, to make the decision to shoot when they see a target with a gun.
They are given less than a millisecond to respond, and if they don’t respond quickly enough, they get a little error message saying, “Please make the decision faster.”
Laboratory settings don’t necessarily translate to real life scenarios. That should be obvious, but I guess psychology students aren’t the best people for figuring out common sense things. You know, little common sense stuff like determining which major is most likely to get you a good job.
Speaking of the laboratory setting, it’s interesting to note that there were apparently no firearms actually used in these tests. Subjects were placed at a computer and asked to hit two different buttons (“shoot” and “no shoot”) depending on what they saw. Is there a psychological difference between pressing a button and pulling a trigger? Milgram says yes (and is the only thing I still remember from Psych 101). So again we don’t have a 1:1 correlation between what is being tested and what the “researchers” are claiming. That’s like asking someone to choose between a banana and an apple for dinner and claiming that choosing a banana proves they are a racist.
The final nail in the coffin: of all the “studies” they “studied,” only one had an average participant age over 21. So in the vast majority of cases the participants were too young to purchase a handgun, let alone carry a concealed firearm. This study might prove that college kids are afraid of black people, but without actually studying the populations you care about (gun owners, police officers, military members) you can’t get an accurate result.
That would be like doing a survey of Germans and using that to determine the outcome of Greece’s election. Doing a “study” on college kids who probably don’t own a gun and are at a sufficiently liberal bastion of education that they have a psychology department willing to green light this kind of thing aren’t really representative of the American population.
Nevertheless, that didn’t stop NPR from latching onto this “study” like a fat kid on cake. Not because of the rigorous science behind the research, but because the results match their bias. “Gun owners hate black people! Black people are more likely to be shot! Avoid everywhere that isn’t New York or California!” Right.