A white female researcher went to a train station near San Francisco and asked 62 white voters to watch a video of mug shots of male inmates–before asking them to sign a petition easing California’s three-strikes law. Some watched a video where only 25 percent of inmates were black. Others, where 45 percent of inmates were black. When it came time for signing, most white voters viewing the video with fewer black inmates signed the petition. Those viewing the video with a higher percentage of black inmates, however, refused to sign, “regardless of how harsh participants thought the law was.” A new Stanford University study out this week reports that this and other experiments show that for white voters, highlighting racial disparities in mass incarceration may actually bolster support for tough on crime policies.
Researchers conducted a separate “real-life” experiment with white New Yorkers around stop-and-frisk. The results were similar to San Francisco’s. The takeaway?
“Many legal advocates and social activists seem to assume that bombarding the public with images, statistics and other evidence of racial disparities will motivate people to join the cause and fight inequality,” Hetey said. “[But] our research shows that numbers don’t always speak for themselves,” Eberhardt said. “Reducing inequality takes more than simply presenting people with evidence of extreme inequality.”
Read more at Stanford News.