Good Cop, Bad Cop: Race-Based Differences in Mental Representations of Police

E. Paige Lloyd, Mattea Sim, Evans Smalley, Michael J. Bernstein, Kurt Hugenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The current work investigates race-based biases in conceptualization of the facial appearance of police. We employ a reverse correlation procedure to demonstrate that Black Americans, relative to White Americans, conceptualize police officers’ faces as more negative, less positive, and more dominant. We further find that these differential representations have implications for interactions with police. When naïve participants (of various races) viewed images of police officers generated by Black Americans (relative to those generated by White Americans), they responded with greater anticipated anxiety and reported more fight-or-flight behavioral intentions. Across four studies, findings suggest Black and White Americans conceptualize police and police–citizen interactions fundamentally differently. These findings have important theoretical (e.g., using reverse correlation to document the mental representations held by minority group members) and practical implications (e.g., identifying race-based differences in representations of police that may affect community–police relations).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1205-1218
Number of pages14
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology


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