Wearing a police uniform may evoke bias

Ottawa, Feb 12 (IANS) Merely wearing a police uniform may change the way you perceive others and evoke a bias in you towards those considered to be of low social status, a new study has found.

The study conducted at McMaster University in Ontario state of Canada raises important questions about stereotypes and profiling, and about how the symbolic power and authority associated with police uniforms might affect these tendencies.

“We all know that the police generally do an excellent job, but there has also been a great deal of public discourse about biased policing in North America over recent years,” said Sukhvinder Obhi, Associate Professor at McMaster University.

“We set out to explore whether the uniform itself might have an impact, independent of all other aspects of the police subculture, training or work experiences,” Obhi added.

Wearing police attire, the participants in the study were shown photos of individuals wearing hoodies and it was noticed that they were distracted. Their reaction times slowed, indicating that the images of hoodies were attention-grabbing.

This bias towards hoodies only occurred when participants were wearing the police-style garb.

“We know that clothing conveys meaning and that the hoodie has to some extent become a symbol of lower social standing and inner-city youth. There is a stereotype out there that links hoodies with crime and violence, and this stereotype might be activated to a greater degree when donning the police style uniform,” explained Obhi.

The study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology explained that this behaviour is especially important for police officers who might unconsciously perceive a threat where one does not exist or vice versa.