social commentary

Maybe Clothes Make The Cop

I came across this interesting article in ScienceDaily today.

It appears that simply putting on a Police Uniform (the type that they wear in most places in the USA and Canada) changes your perception of others at a level you have no control over.

Your psychological makeup and experience affects your perception of other people. Negative experiences with members of visually identifiable groups will leave you with a bad feeling and that will be associated with members of that group. Exposure to negative stereotypes without counter examples or counter experiences will also likely taint your feelings about whatever group it is. That’s life.

But what happens when your role, your job, requires that you actively partition those you see into ‘threats’ and ‘non-threats’ to society? There’s implied and explicit commitments and responsibilities to evaluate others in a way you wouldn’t if you didn’t have that job.

The study showed that once you don the uniform of a police officer there’s an automatic shift in bias towards individuals who appear to be from one of the lower social status groups. And it’s not the way many would expect. Given pictures of people from two racial groups, blacks and whites, in two types of clothing, business attire and hoodies, they found that it’s people’s clothing, the hoody, that distracts the people wearing the police uniforms the most. Not their skin colour. Of course the study was done at a Canadian university and they aren’t sure if the results would be different in an American university.

It leaves me wondering about follow on studies of people wearing different garb from different social status levels and how their perceptions of others, especially uniformed police, is affected. But knowing if there’s a detectable effect in perceived class differences would also be interesting to know.

One easy take away: If you’re doing the journalist job and going to cover what may turn into a protest DO NOT wear a hoody. Or whatever you think the cops will think the ‘problem individuals in the crowd’ look like.