The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children

by Brooke Allison Lewis Di Leone; Carmen Marie Culotta; Matthew Christian Jackson; Natalie Ann DiTomasso; Philip Atiba Goff

Mar 1, 2014

This research, consisting of four studies of police officers and college students, finds that Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers. Instead, they are more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty, and face police violence if accused of a crime. The research provides evidence that these racial disparities are predicted by the implicit dehumanization of Blacks.
  • Police officers in the study who dehumanized blacks – measured by an implicit association task – were more likely to have used force against a black child.
  • Unlike dehumanization, neither explicit nor implicit anti-Black prejudice of police officers was found to be related to violent encounters with Black children in custody.
  • When shown photos of White, Black, and Latino boys ages 10 to 17 alongside descriptions of crimes, undergraduate students overestimated the age of Black boys by an average of 4.5 years and found them more culpable of crimes.
  • Students who implicitly dehumanized Blacks rated Black children as older, less innocent, and less in need of protection.