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Imprisoned Imperceptions: Inaccuracy in Incarceration Demographic Stereotypes
Unformatted Document Text:  Incarceration Beliefs Overall, these results make it clear that peoples’ beliefs about the demographics of the U.S. population were highly (though not perfectly) accurate, and certainly far more accurate than their beliefs about the incarcerated population. This allows us to rule out general difficulty estimating percentages as an explanation for the inaccuracies and biases found in people’s beliefs about the demographics of incarceration. Discussion Although our focus on stereotypes regarding the demographics of incarceration is unique in the literature, this research has addressed some longstanding issues in the social sciences. First and foremost, this research tested several stereotyping hypotheses regarding peoples’ beliefs about incarcerated individuals. Many of the inaccurate estimates of incarceration demographics were consistent with a system justification perspective (Jost & Banaji, 1994). Perceivers, regardless of their own social group, tended to overestimate the proportion of disadvantaged groups, and underestimate the proportion of advantaged groups, that make up the prison population. It seems likely that system justification motives drive the inaccurate perceptions of these groups. Results bearing on the other stereotyping hypotheses were more mixed. The evidence of ingroup bias was more apparent than real. Although Whites, men, and those with high school degrees did favor themselves, they did so to about the same extent as other groups favored Whites, men, and those with high school degrees. This raises the possibility that Whites, men, and those with high school degrees hold more ingroup bias than do other groups. Given the evidence that high status groups are often more biased (Bettencourt, Charlton, Dorr, & Hume, 2001), this is one plausible possibility. System justification theory (Jost & Banaji, 1994), however, provides a simple and clear explanation for why this would be the case. Specifically, people, regardless of their position in a status hierarchy, develop stereotypes that support and justify that status hierarchy. 21

Authors: Ragusa, Laura.
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Incarceration Beliefs
Overall, these results make it clear that peoples’ beliefs about the demographics of the U.S. 
population were highly (though not perfectly) accurate, and certainly far more accurate than their 
beliefs about the incarcerated population. This allows us to rule out general difficulty estimating 
percentages as an explanation for the inaccuracies and biases found in people’s beliefs about the 
demographics of incarceration.
Discussion
Although our focus on stereotypes regarding the demographics of incarceration is unique in 
the literature, this research has addressed some longstanding issues in the social sciences.  First and 
foremost, this research tested several stereotyping hypotheses regarding peoples’ beliefs about 
incarcerated individuals. Many of the inaccurate estimates of incarceration demographics were 
consistent with a system justification perspective (Jost & Banaji, 1994). Perceivers, regardless of 
their own social group, tended to overestimate the proportion of disadvantaged groups, and 
underestimate the proportion of advantaged groups, that make up the prison population.  It seems 
likely that system justification motives drive the inaccurate perceptions of these groups.
Results bearing on the other stereotyping hypotheses were more mixed.  The evidence of 
ingroup bias was more apparent than real.  Although Whites, men, and those with high school 
degrees did favor themselves, they did so to about the same extent as other groups favored Whites, 
men, and those with high school degrees.  This raises the possibility that Whites, men, and those with 
high school degrees hold more ingroup bias than do other groups.  Given the evidence that high status 
groups are often more biased (Bettencourt, Charlton, Dorr, & Hume, 2001), this is one plausible 
possibility.  System justification theory (Jost & Banaji, 1994), however, provides a simple and clear 
explanation for why this would be the case.  Specifically, people, regardless of their position in a 
status hierarchy, develop stereotypes that support and justify that status hierarchy.  
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