Racial stereotyping others is more common among people who’ve been drinking alcohol, but just thinking about alcohol can have the same effect. That’s according to a new study by University of Missouri’s Bruce D. Bartholow, who found that people who saw alcoholic beverage ads were more likely to mistakenly see tools as handguns when associated with black male faces.
This is how the experiment went down: participants were shown a bunch of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drink ads. Then they saw pictures of black and white men’s faces for a split second, followed immediately by pictures of handguns and tools. Those who were exposed to the alcohol ads were more likely to exhibit racial bias, by mistakenly identifying the tools as handguns after seeing photos of black male faces. Participants who saw non-alcoholic drink ads didn’t make the same mistake as often. The quick speed of the experiment kept participants from over-thinking their responses.
Bartholow previously conducted a similar experiment in which participants actually drank alcohol. But this new study shows that even thinking about alcohol increases racial bias. Bartholow’s assessment: the mental association with alcohol could be enough for people to subconsciously relax their inhibitions and “allow their behaviors to be more influenced by stereotypes,” according to a news release.
The experiment helps shed some light on which external factors can influence racial stereotyping. There are a number of cases in which unarmed black men have been shot or even killed by people who mistakenly saw the men wielding guns. It’s unclear whether the Trayvon Martin case fits this description, although his shooter did say he shot the unarmed black teen in self-defense. But take the case of Amadou Diallo, who was shot to death in 1999 by plainclothes police officers who said they thought Diallo was pulling a gun. The unarmed 23-year-old African immigrant was actually reaching for his wallet.