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Imprisoned Imperceptions: Inaccuracy in Incarceration Demographic Stereotypes
Unformatted Document Text:  Incarceration Beliefs Table 1 provides the difference scores between the actual and perceived proportions of the social groups (negative values indicate underestimates; positive values indicate overestimates). Regardless of the perceiver’s social group, perceivers consistently underestimated the proportion of Whites, men, and high school graduates in the prison population, and overestimated the proportion of women, Latinos, Blacks, and the mentally ill in the prison population. Thus, these data provided strong support for the system justification theory hypothesis. Ingroup bias hypothesis. The ingroup bias hypothesis predicts that participants will underestimate the extent to which their own social group is incarcerated. Table 1 provides the data to test this hypothesis. It appears that advantaged groups (Whites; men; high school graduates) conformed to the ingroup bias hypothesis—they each underestimated the extent to which their own social group was imprisoned. However, it appears that among disadvantaged groups (women; Latinos; Blacks) that the ingroup bias hypothesis is disconfirmed. Although this pattern could be taken as “mixed” evidence of ingroup bias, system justification seems to provide a stronger and simpler explanation for the results. Exaggeration hypothesis. Did people exaggerate the differences between incarcerated groups? The Actual and Estimate columns of Table 2 provide answers to this question. In general, people underestimated real differences. First, they underestimated the male/female difference. 7% of prisoners are women, which means that 93% are men, and this, in turn, means that the difference is 86%. People, however, estimated that almost 23% of prisoners are women, which would mean 77% are men, for a difference of only 54%. In a similar manner, people underestimated the mentally ill/not mentally ill differences, the Black/nonblack differences, and the Latino/non-Latino differences. They did, however, exaggerate the White/non-White difference. This can be seen simply by comparing the estimate of 29.68% to the actual of 35%. This means that the real White/nonwhite difference is about 30% (35% White versus 65% nonwhite), but the perceived difference is about 13

Authors: Ragusa, Laura.
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Incarceration Beliefs
Table 1 provides the difference scores between the actual and perceived proportions of the social 
groups (negative values indicate underestimates; positive values indicate overestimates). Regardless 
of the perceiver’s social group, perceivers consistently underestimated the proportion of Whites, men, 
and high school graduates in the prison population, and overestimated the proportion of women, 
Latinos, Blacks, and the mentally ill in the prison population. Thus, these data provided strong 
support for the system justification theory hypothesis. 
Ingroup bias hypothesis. The ingroup bias hypothesis predicts that participants will 
underestimate the extent to which their own social group is incarcerated. Table 1 provides the data to 
test this hypothesis. It appears that advantaged groups (Whites; men; high school graduates) 
conformed to the ingroup bias hypothesis—they each underestimated the extent to which their own 
social group was imprisoned. However, it appears that among disadvantaged groups (women; 
Latinos; Blacks) that the ingroup bias hypothesis is disconfirmed.  Although this pattern could be 
taken as “mixed” evidence of ingroup bias, system justification seems to provide a stronger and 
simpler explanation for the results.
Exaggeration hypothesis.  Did people exaggerate the differences between incarcerated 
groups?  The Actual and Estimate columns of Table 2 provide answers to this question.  In general, 
people underestimated real differences.  First, they underestimated the male/female difference.  7% of 
prisoners are women, which means that 93% are men, and this, in turn, means that the difference is 
86%.  People, however, estimated that almost 23% of prisoners are women, which would mean 77% 
are men, for a difference of only 54%.  In a similar manner, people underestimated the mentally 
ill/not mentally ill differences, the Black/nonblack differences, and the Latino/non-Latino differences. 
They did, however, exaggerate the White/non-White difference.  This can be seen simply by 
comparing the estimate of 29.68% to the actual of 35%.  This means that the real White/nonwhite 
difference is about 30% (35% White versus 65% nonwhite), but the perceived difference is about 
13


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