Embodying the police: The effects of enclothed cognition on shooting decisions

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Psychological Reports


Stereotyping, enclothed cognition, police shootings, power, social justice


The theory of enclothed cognition proposes that wearing physical articles of clothing can trigger psychological processes and behavioral tendencies connected to their symbolic meaning. Furthermore, past research has found that increases in power are associated with greater approach orientation and action tendencies. In this study, we integrate these two literatures to examine how embodying the role of a police officer through wearing a uniform would affect responses on a reaction-time measure known as the Shooter Task. This first-person video game simulation requires participants to shoot or not shoot targets holding guns or objects. The task typically elicits a stereotypical pattern of responses, such that unarmed Black versus White targets are more likely to be mistakenly shot and armed Black versus White targets are more likely to be correctly shot. Based on the relationship between power and action, we hypothesized that participants who were randomly assigned to wear a police uniform would show more shooting errors, particularly false alarms, than control participants. Consistent with our hypotheses, participants in uniform were more likely to shoot unarmed targets, regardless of their race. Moreover, this pattern was partially moderated by attitudes about the police and their abuse of power. Specifically, uniformed participants who justified police use of power were more likely to shoot innocent targets than those who were wary of it. We discuss implications for police perceptions and the theory of enclothed cognition more broadly.