It has been almost 60 years since the Civil Rights Movement yet underlying racial tensions and documentation of police brutality continue on in America. While criminal activity knows no race, there seems to be a correlation between increased use of force by police officers on people of color compared to their white counterparts (Spencer, Charbonneau, & Glasser, 2016). Whether it is media portrayal, or actual bias by officers, the number of deaths at the hands of police officers since 2014 has sparked outcry from the public.
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Much like the 1960’s and the height of the Civil Rights Movement, a grassroots movement, Black Lives Matter, has begun to take a stand against what is viewed as excessive policing. Currently there is no cohesive database documenting the number of police related shootings. Empirically based research and literature is limited regarding criminal homicide and police shootings (Bejan, Hickman, Parkin & Pozo, 2018). Current research also suggests an under-reporting or misreporting on governmental websites such as The National Vital Statistics System (NVSS) (Feldman, Gruskin, Coull, & Krieger, 2017).
The creation of the Black Lives Matter Movement (BLM) in response to the shooting of Trayvon Martin has pushed these types of incidents to the forefront of media. The coverage, negative or positive have sparked conversation and research into these matters. Though racism, racial discord and the use of excessive force by police officers is not a new subject area, the seemingly increase of unarmed individuals being shot by police, social media encounters of racism and misuse of police resources by individuals reporting people of color for infractions such as studying in their dorms (Wootson, 2018) or hosting a barbeque (Fernow, 2018) have opened the door for more research (Bejan, Hickman, Parkin & Pozo, 2018).
One area of research questions the role of implicit bias in racial interactions, particularly in regard to police interactions with persons of color (Plant & Peruche, 2005; Correll, Park, Judd, Wittenbrink, Sadler & Keesee, 2007; Spencer, Charbonneau, Glasser, 2016). Implicit bias holds to the idea that individuals are unaware of their own biases that affect their behavior, often in a discriminatory manner (Selmi, 2018). Due to the ignorance of their own bias, behaviors and responses can be attributed to external influences and events, rather than recognizing the internal workings occurring (Plant & Peruche, 2005).
Coupled with this underlying theory is a response on ways to counteract implicit bias, specifically in police training. Police departments themselves are seeking ways to better train their officers in an attempt to reduce fatalities. Researchers, as well, are considering the implementation of cognitive-behavioral based training as well as exposure-based training in an attempt to minimize implicit bias, therefore reducing the number of police brutality incidents (Kawakami, Dovidio, Moll, Hermsen, & Russin, 2000; Lai, Marini, Lehr, Cerruti, Shin, Joy-Gaba, & Nosek, 2014; Plant & Peruche, 2005).
Cognitive-behavioral approaches to treatment focus on the observable or overt behavior as well as the non-observable or covert behavior. The theory examines the importance of the current environment, in this case, that of police encounters, and the development of problematic behaviors; excessive force or police brutality (Plante, 2011). Addressing the overt and covert behaviors through exposure to individuals of different ethnicities through computer simulation, real life intergroup experiences and counter stereotypical materials are areas of methodology under examination. Working to find a more adaptive response to perceived threat through counterconditioning, as well as behavioral rehearsal associated with high stress situations is of consideration as well (Spencer, Charbonneau, & Glaser, 2016; Lai et al., 2014; Kawakami et al., 2000).
Understanding the underlying behaviors and thought processes and addressing them with a multi-faceted treatment of cognitive behavioral and exposure techniques to address implicit bias within police training, may bring about a reduction in the use of excessive force and incidents of police brutality. This paper examines cognitive-behavioral approaches to reducing implicit bias, specifically looking assessing the effects of exposure training and counter-stereotyping as two successful means of treatment. Counterarguments to these treatments are also presented.
While some would like to believe they are living in a post-racial America, where race and racism is virtually non-existent, statistics reveal that over the last three years, concerns about racism and race relations has sharply risen to 47% in the United States (Swift & Gallop, Inc., 2017). One of the underlying factors that researchers have found contributing to this increase is the number of highly publicized shootings of unarmed Black individuals (Swift & Gallop, Inc., 2017). In response, current literature has looked to examine the possible underlying factors that are impacting this rise in shootings.
Implicit bias has been considered as one of these elements of influence on these incidents. As previously mentioned, implicit biases are unconscious prejudices that individuals hold, typically toward another person and behaviors associated in response are often negative and discriminatory toward the object of these biases (Selmi, 2018). As an example of implicit bias at work, Eberhardt, Goff, Purdie, & Davies (2004) found that the sight of a Black face could generate notions of crime, with the inverse true as well. If the mere thought of, or visual cue of a Black individual’s presence could lead to this thought process, how much more so could it escalate a situation? These consequences of implicit bias are being addressed by researchers by seeking to counteract the biases themselves.
Some have suggested embracing a colorblind ideology as a means to counteracting racism, and racial bias. Colorblind ideology, at its core seeks to remove color from the equation, and present itself as egalitarian and just, contributing acts of perceived racism to outlying factors. However, as Bonilla-Silva (2014) has discovered, it has simply enabled a new form of racism, allowing for the continuation of systemic racism, including in the realm of policing.
While research provides varied means of treatment to reduce or neutralize implicit bias, current literature suggests that the most successful reductions occur with a combination of treatment approaches, namely cognitive-behavioral based training coupled with exposure-based training (Plant & Peruche, 2005; Kawakami et al.,2000; Lai et al., 2014).
Cognitive-behavioral therapy became popular in the 1970’s in response to recognition of limitations found within strict behavioral therapy, specifically the identification of the role that thoughts, attitudes and feelings had on behavior. This awareness brought about an integrative model of the current behavioral practices with more cognitive approaches. This integration recognized the importance of not only the observable outward behavior, but that of the inner workings of thought processes and emotions. Based upon principles of learning and the workings of experimental psychology, cognitive-behavioral therapy recognizes the function of behavior being influenced by thoughts, attitudes and feelings (Plante, 2011).
With this understanding, researchers have sought to implement treatments based in this approach to reduce an individual’s implicit bias, which should therefore reduce the behaviors associated with said bias.
Exposure based training. An area of exploration in seeking to reduce implicit bias is through the avenue of exposure. Exposure based therapy can be a gradual process; slowly exposing an individual to something they fear, or it can occur all at once (Plante, 2011). In the case of implicit bias and policing, an officer may not be outright ‘afraid’ of a person of color, yet, their underlying biases may manifest in rapidness to fire their weapon when encountering them in a high stress situation.
One of the least risky forms of exposure found within the literature was that of a computer-based program. Within this study, officers were presented with images of Black and White men with either a weapon or a neutral object. Initially officers were more likely to fire their weapon in response to a Black face, regardless of the presence of weapon or not. Over time was found that over time, with repeated exposure to images of Black men and a neutral object, officer shootings decreased, and accuracy increased. Authors of the study correlated repeated non-threating exposure to Black men and lack of shooting by officers with a reduction in bias. (Plant & Peruche, 2005).
Exposure through intergroup contract has been suggested as way to reduce implicit bias in officers. Allport (1954) speculated that in order to reduce biases four criteria should be met. Individuals of the ingroup, in this instance, police, would meet with the outgroup, regularly, and were considered as holding equal status as humans, while seeking the same goal, in this case peace and reduced incidents, and this effort was supported by those in authority, then prejudice and bias could be reduced. Community based police programs, (Gill, Weisburd, Telep, Vitter, & 2014) and collaboration with those considered to be the outgroup, in this case, those that are on the receiving end of bias, example of implementation of these elements.
A meta-analysis of intergroup contact found that with increased contact, prejudice decreased. It was also found that the removal of choice for participation in intergroup contact within some studies found an actual greater decrease in prejudice than in studies where participants were given a choice. Results were found to be generalized outside of the specific members of the intergroup to members of the entire outgroup as well, even having had zero prior contact.
While Allport’s (1954) four conditions for intergroup exposure strengthened the response, that is, prejudice was reduced, it was found that even apart from all requirements being met, that intergroup contact reduced prejudice (Pettigrew, & Troup, 2006). By interacting regularly with individuals outside of their group, in a positive manner, implicit bias is reduced.
Using counter-prejudicial training to change the response and action (excessive force and or shooting) outcomes in reaction to the presence of minority suspects. The focus of this training seeks to change the stereotypical narrative that invokes a negative response and replace it with a counter one.
For example, if the stereotype is Black men are ?gangbangers’ who wear low riding pants and oversized shirts, dealing drugs in the streets, the narrative would replace it with a helpful Samaritan, who happened to be a Black man, intervening in a crime that is occurring. This is a simplistic example, however the idea behind it remains.
Calanchini, Gonsalkorale, Sherman, & Klauer (2013) conducted a study implementing counter-prejudicial narratives postulating the idea that if an individual could be trained to respond to images of Black men in a counter-prejudicial way, they could reduce the person’s implicit biases, as well as reinforce the mental process that aid in diminishing the impact of biased associations. Participants were trained in either a counter-prejudicial manner or a pro-prejudicial manner, a control was not trained in either direction. Using images of neutral faced expressions of Black and White men, participants were primed with relating either a negative or positive word to the image. Following this training, they were given an Implicit Association Test linking Black and White with either pleasant or unpleasant words. Results showed that training individuals in a counter-prejudicial manner showed less triggering of biased responses. However, they found that there was not an increase or decrease in biased responses from those trained in the pro-prejudicial manner.
Calanchini et al.’s (2013) findings are supported by current literature. Lai et al. (2014) conducted a comparative study of seventeen interventions for reducing implicit bias; one of these interventions was presenting a counter-prejudicial (counter-stereotypical) narrative. Within this vein, four different studies were conducted; a counter-narrative story, a counter-narrative story that places the participant within the story, images pairing the word ?good’ with the image of Black man and ?bad’ with a White man, and then only images of a Black man with the word good. Results showed involving the participant in the counter-stereotypic narrative greatly reduced implicit bias.
It has been suggested that by re-training associations, there is an ability to negate stereotypes and prejudicial attitudes; in so doing, there is a reduction in implicit bias (Kawakami et al., 2000).
Criticism and Counter Solutions. While there are numerous studies supporting the reduction of implicit bias through cognitive-behavioral training; specifically using a counter-stereotypic presentation, there are suggestions within the literature that it (counter-stereotypic presentation) may not be the most effective means due to concerns about the longevity of effect (Burns, Monteith, & Parker, 2017).
An alternative proposition is found in motivation, by either internal or external influence, and its relation to self-regulation in the reduction or suppression of implicit bias (Devine, Plant, Amodio, Harmong-Jones, & Vance, 2002; Hausmann, & Ryan, 2004). The source of motivation for individuals to not express prejudicial attitudes may be more effective is the source is an internal motivation. The desire to not appear prejudice due to external pressure, i.e. it is not acceptable, may not be strong enough to control those attitudes privately. However, an internal desire to consciously not act or appear prejudice may strengthen the ability to overcome implicit bias (Butz & Plant, 2009).
Studies have found, those with higher levels of internal motivation were able to regulate prejudicial attitudes in a variety of situations and varying levels of pressure. Whereas those who’s motivation was strictly external were unable to manage prejudicial attitudes in situations that placed them in a position with higher pressure and little control (Burns et al., 2017; Butz & Plant, 2009). Furthermore, when individuals were made aware of their biased behaviors, thoughts or actions, and these actions were not in alignment with their personal convictions, it created feelings of guilt. These incongruencies between actions and personal convictions led to a greater reduction in implicit bias (Butz & Plant, 2009; Lai, Hoffman, & Nosek, 2013).
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