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Imprisoned Imperceptions: Inaccuracy in Incarceration Demographic Stereotypes
Unformatted Document Text:  Incarceration Beliefs discrepancies from reality, and the results of the independent-samples t-tests comparing these samples’ estimates. This hypothesis received mixed support. According to the discrepancy analyses, criminal justice majors are no more accurate in their perceptions of prison demographics than non-experts; for the majority of dependent variables, there was no difference between these two samples. What is particularly striking is that the criminal justice majors wildly overestimated the total proportion of the U.S. population that is incarcerated to essentially the same degree as did our non-expert train commuters (see Table 5 , top row). Furthermore, in the two cases that there were significant differences in discrepancy scores, the criminal justice majors (our hypothesized experts) were more accurate once and less accurate once. They were more accurate in their estimates of the female prison population, but less accurate (and more prone to overestimates) than non-experts in their perceptions of the Black prison population. An independent samples t-test compared the average individual correlation for prison demographic estimates for experts to the average individual correlation for non-experts, t(318)= 2.98, p<.01, M’s= .34 and .21, respectively. These results indicate that criminal justice majors’ beliefs about prison demographics did correspond more with reality than did the beliefs of our lay sample. The same can be said for the estimates of the U.S. population, t(329)= 2.44, p<.05, M’s= .85 and .78, respectively. Criminal justice majors’ beliefs about U.S. population demographics corresponded more with reality than did the beliefs of our lay sample. Thus it appears that whereas the discrepancies from reality do not indicate a clear difference in accuracy, the correlations indicate that our criminal justice students were in general more accurate than non-experts, in both U.S. population and prison population estimates. Assessment of Accuracy in Perceptions of the Demographics of the U.S. Population 19

Authors: Ragusa, Laura.
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Incarceration Beliefs
discrepancies from reality, and the results of the independent-samples t-tests comparing these 
samples’ estimates. 
This hypothesis received mixed support.  According to the discrepancy analyses, criminal 
justice majors are no more accurate in their perceptions of prison demographics than non-experts; for 
the majority of dependent variables, there was no difference between these two samples. What is 
particularly striking is that the criminal justice majors wildly overestimated the total proportion of the 
U.S. population that is incarcerated to essentially the same degree as did our non-expert train 
commuters (see Table 
5
, top row).  Furthermore, in the two cases that there were significant 
differences in discrepancy scores, the criminal justice majors (our hypothesized experts) were more 
accurate once and less accurate once.  They were more accurate in their estimates of the female 
prison population, but less accurate (and more prone to overestimates) than non-experts in their 
perceptions of the Black prison population. 
An independent samples t-test compared the average individual correlation for prison 
demographic estimates for experts to the average individual correlation for non-experts, t(318)= 2.98, 
p<.01, M’s= .34 and .21, respectively. These results indicate that criminal justice majors’ beliefs 
about prison demographics did correspond more with reality than did the beliefs of our lay sample. 
The same can be said for the estimates of the U.S. population, t(329)= 2.44, p<.05, M’s= .85 and .78, 
respectively. Criminal justice majors’ beliefs about U.S. population demographics corresponded more 
with reality than did the beliefs of our lay sample. 
Thus it appears that whereas the discrepancies from reality do not indicate a clear difference 
in accuracy, the correlations indicate that our criminal justice students were in general more accurate 
than non-experts, in both U.S. population and prison population estimates. 
Assessment of Accuracy in Perceptions of the Demographics of the U.S. Population
19


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