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Emotion. 2014 Dec;14(6):1115-24. doi: 10.1037/a0038214.

The role of expression and race in weapons identification.

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Department of Psychology and The Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture, University of Chicago.
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Colorado.


Emotional expressions can signal intentions and so possess the power to moderate social inferences. Here, we test whether stereotypes implicitly elicited by a stigmatized racial outgroup member are moderated by facial expression. Participants classified pictures of guns and tools that were primed with pictures of Black and White male faces posing angry, happy, and neutral expressions. Across the 3 measures examined--response latencies, error rates, and automatic processing, facial expression modulated implicit stereotyping (Study 1, n = 71; Study 2, n = 166). A Black angry prime elicited implicit stereotyping, while a Black happy prime diminished implicit stereotyping. Responding after neutral primes varied as a function of the expression context. When viewed alongside more threatening expressions (Study 1), neutral Black targets no longer elicited implicit stereotyping, but when viewed alongside more threatening expressions (Study 2), neutral Black targets primed crime and danger-relevant stereotypes. These results demonstrate that an individual can activate different associations based on changes in emotional expression and that a feature present in many everyday encounters (a smile) attenuates implicit racial stereotyping.

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