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Law Hum Behav. 2020 Mar 12. doi: 10.1037/lhb0000366. [Epub ahead of print]

Subjective interpretation of "objective" video evidence: Perceptions of male versus female police officers' use-of-force.

Author information

School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Arizona State University.
School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Arizona State University.



The police face great scrutiny after highly publicized instances of lethal force. Dash-camera footage ostensibly provides "objective" evidence of whether the force was excessive. We tested whether participants interpreted the same "objective" video of an officer exerting force differently based on the officer's gender and race.


We predicted that when (a) a male (vs. female) officer used force and (b) a Black (vs. White) officer used force, participants would endorse more internal and less external explanations for their use-of-force, which would be associated with less trust in and perceived effectiveness of the officer.


We randomly assigned Amazon's Mechanical Turk workers (N = 452; 53% female, 80% White) to (a) see a segment of a police-civilian interaction video that either included or did not include exertion of force, and to believe that the officer was (b) male versus female, and (c) Black versus White. They reported their trust in the officer and perceptions of the officer's effectiveness, and their degree of agreement with external and internal attributions for the officer's behavior.


When officers used force, people trusted officers less (d = 1.13) and perceived them to be less effective (d = .78) relative to when they did not. Despite all participants viewing the same interaction, people who thought they saw a male (vs. female) officer perceived his use-of-force to be driven more by internal traits, such as being aggressive and emotionally reactive, and less by the external situation, which was associated with decreased trust and perceived effectiveness. In contrast, people perceived female (vs. male) officers' force to be driven more by external aspects of the dangerous situation, which was associated with increased trust and perceived effectiveness. This pattern did not depend on the officers' race or participants' gender.


This constitutes a rare instance of women benefiting from violating gender stereotypes in the workplace because people assumed her counterstereotypical behavior was more justified by the situation and less about her being an aggressive and emotionally reactive person. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).


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