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Black Boys Are Viewed As Older And Less Innocent Than Whites

Update Date: Mar 08, 2014 05:29 PM EST

Black boys aged 10 might not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white counterparts, according to a new study. Chances are that they might be mistaken as older, guilty and might face police violence in case of accusations. 

"Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection. Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent," said author Phillip Atiba Goff, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles, in the press release. 

Around 175 police officers of average age 37 were chosen as subjects among which majority of them were white males. To determine their preference to identify victim in both the circumstances, they were asked a set of psychological questionnaire with statements such as "It is likely that blacks will bring violence to neighborhoods when they move in." 

"We found evidence that overestimating age and culpability based on racial differences was linked to dehumanizing stereotypes, but future research should try to clarify the relationship between dehumanization and racial disparities in police use of force," Goff added.

More than 250 female undergraduate students from large public U.S. universities were also involved in the study. They were shown photographs alongside descriptions of various crimes and were then asked to assess the age and innocence of white, black or Latino boys ages 10 to 17. 

"The evidence shows that perceptions of the essential nature of children can be affected by race, and for black children, this can mean they lose the protection afforded by assumed childhood innocence well before they become adults," said co-author Matthew Jackson, PhD, of UCLA in the press release. "With the average age overestimation for black boys exceeding four-and-a-half years, in some cases, black children may be viewed as adults when they are just 13 years old."

The study has been published online in APA's Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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