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Imprisoned Imperceptions: Inaccuracy in Incarceration Demographic Stereotypes
Unformatted Document Text:  Incarceration Beliefs usually doing pretty well (see Jussim et al, 2009, for a more detailed justification for using this standard in studies of stereotype accuracy; see also McCauley & Stitt, 1978 for a similar approach). Furthermore, because accuracy is a matter of degree (Jussim, 2005), , it is unreasonable to characterize a belief that is 10% off as “accurate” and one that is 10.1% off as “inaccurate.” So we additionally characterize estimates that are close to “accurate” as “near misses”. What is a reasonable standard for a near miss? We will use the criterion of more than 10 percentage points off, but no more than 20 percentage points off. Within 20 percentage points is certainly not a bulls-eye, but it is not completely out of touch with reality either, and is certainly far more accurate than being off by 40 points or more. How well do people’s beliefs correspond with reality? Correlations. Even if people’s estimates are inaccurate in an absolute sense, they may still correspond reasonably well with reality in a relative sense. For example, people’s absolute estimates are potentially subject to all sorts of errors and biases, such as “contraction bias” (the tendency to avoid extremely high or low estimates, Cejka & Eagly, 1999), ingroup favoritism (Judd & Park, 1993), and the exaggeration of real differences (Ryan, 1996; see also Cronbach, 1955; Jussim, 2005; Kenny, 1994). Nonetheless, despite the potential for biases to undermine people’s absolute levels of accuracy, they might have a good sense of which groups have higher or lower incarceration rates. In this case, their estimates will correspond (correlate) reasonably well with criteria, despite the existence of inaccuracies in discrepancies. Correlations assess how well people’s beliefs correspond with criteria, independent of their degree of discrepancy. How much correspondence should be considered “accurate”? Again, this is a judgment call. Nonetheless, we advocate holding people to a high standard – the same standards to which social scientists hold themselves. Cohen (1988), in his classic statistical treatise imploring social scientists to examine the size of the effects they obtained in their studies and not just the “statistical 10

Authors: Ragusa, Laura.
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Incarceration Beliefs
usually doing pretty well (see Jussim et al, 2009, for a more detailed justification for using this 
standard in studies of stereotype accuracy; see also McCauley & Stitt, 1978 for a similar approach).  
 
Furthermore, because accuracy is a matter of degree (Jussim, 2005), , it is unreasonable to 
characterize a belief that is 10% off as “accurate” and one that is 10.1% off as “inaccurate.”   So we 
additionally characterize estimates that are close to “accurate” as “near misses”.  What is a reasonable 
standard for a near miss?  We will use the criterion of more than 10 percentage points off, but no 
more than 20 percentage points  off.  Within 20 percentage points  is certainly not a bulls-eye, but it 
is not completely out of touch with reality either, and is certainly far more accurate than being off by 
40 points or more.  
How well do people’s beliefs correspond with reality? Correlations. Even if people’s 
estimates are inaccurate in an absolute sense, they may still correspond reasonably well with reality 
in a relative sense.  For example, people’s absolute estimates are potentially subject to all sorts of 
errors and biases, such as “contraction bias” (the tendency to avoid extremely high or low estimates, 
Cejka & Eagly, 1999), ingroup favoritism (Judd & Park, 1993), and the exaggeration of real 
differences (Ryan, 1996; see also Cronbach, 1955; Jussim, 2005; Kenny, 1994).  Nonetheless, despite 
the potential for biases to undermine people’s absolute levels of accuracy, they might have a good 
sense of which groups have higher or lower incarceration rates.  In this case, their estimates will 
correspond (correlate) reasonably well with criteria, despite the existence of inaccuracies in 
discrepancies.  Correlations assess how well people’s beliefs correspond with criteria, independent of 
their degree of discrepancy.  
How much correspondence should be considered “accurate”?  Again, this is a judgment call. 
Nonetheless, we advocate holding people to a high standard – the same standards to which social 
scientists hold themselves. Cohen (1988), in his classic statistical treatise imploring social scientists 
to examine the size of the effects they obtained in their studies and not just the “statistical 
10


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