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Imprisoned Imperceptions: Inaccuracy in Incarceration Demographic Stereotypes
Unformatted Document Text:  Incarceration Beliefs Despite its venerable history (e.g., Allport, 1954; Campbell, 1967; Tajfel, 1981), there was relatively little support for the exaggeration hypothesis. Although there was some exaggeration, by far, the most common and dominant pattern of the results was underestimation of real differences. The popularity and familiarity of the exaggeration hypothesis notwithstanding, these results are actually consistent with the results of majority of the studies that have tested it – that is, far more research has found evidence of underestimation than of exaggeration of group differences (see McCauley, 1995; Jussim, et al, 2009, for reviews). Nonetheless, even if these results do not indicate exaggeration of group differences, it is still possible that the results do reflect a certain type of exaggeration. Specifically, our respondents seemed to consistently exaggerate the proportion of minority groups in the general population. This included not only Blacks and Latinos, but also the numbers of people who are mentally ill and who lack a high school diploma. Such a pattern is actually quite common (Gelman, Park, Shor, Bafumi, & Cortina, 2009), and indeed, often reflects prejudice against those groups or fear and/or anxiety with respect to those groups. It could, however, also reflect an unmotivated “contraction bias” or subjective regression to the mean. Specifically, people often underestimate when the real percentages are high, and overestimate when the real percentages are low (Cejka & Eagly, 1999; Krueger & DiDonato, 2008). Some errors, however, may have been more reasonable than it may appear at first glance. The New Brunswick, NJ area, where this research was conducted, is very diverse, with relatively (compared to U.S. averages) large populations of African-Americans, Latinos, and other minority groups. The overestimates of these groups in the American population may simply reflect our participants’ direct personal experience with larger than usual numbers of people from such groups. Accuracy and Inaccuracy in Beliefs about Incarcerated Individuals 22

Authors: Ragusa, Laura.
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Incarceration Beliefs
Despite its venerable history (e.g., Allport, 1954; Campbell, 1967; Tajfel, 1981), there was 
relatively little support for the exaggeration hypothesis.  Although there was some exaggeration, by 
far, the most common and dominant pattern of the results was underestimation of real differences. 
The popularity and familiarity of the exaggeration hypothesis notwithstanding, these results are 
actually consistent with the results of majority of the studies that have tested it – that is, far more 
research has found evidence of underestimation than of exaggeration of group differences (see 
McCauley, 1995; Jussim, et al, 2009, for reviews).
Nonetheless, even if these results do not indicate exaggeration of group differences, it is still 
possible that the results do reflect a certain type of exaggeration.  Specifically, our respondents 
seemed to consistently exaggerate the proportion of minority groups in the general population.  This 
included not only Blacks and Latinos, but also the numbers of people who are mentally ill and who 
lack a high school diploma.  Such a pattern is actually quite common (Gelman, Park, Shor, Bafumi, 
& Cortina, 2009), and indeed, often reflects prejudice against those groups or fear and/or anxiety with 
respect to those groups.  It could, however, also reflect an unmotivated “contraction bias” or 
subjective regression to the mean.  Specifically, people often underestimate when the real percentages 
are high, and overestimate when the real percentages are low (Cejka & Eagly, 1999; Krueger & 
DiDonato, 2008). Some errors, however, may have been more reasonable than it may appear at first 
glance.  The New Brunswick, NJ area, where this research was conducted, is very diverse, with 
relatively (compared to U.S. averages) large populations of African-Americans, Latinos, and other 
minority groups.  The overestimates of these groups in the American population may simply reflect 
our participants’ direct personal experience with larger than usual numbers of people from such 
groups.  
Accuracy and Inaccuracy in Beliefs about Incarcerated Individuals
22


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