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Imprisoned Imperceptions: Inaccuracy in Incarceration Demographic Stereotypes
Unformatted Document Text:  Incarceration Beliefs Future studies could also seek to test additional stereotyping hypotheses, as well as the consequences of holding accurate versus inaccurate beliefs about incarceration. For example, the contact hypothesis (Allport, 1954) may be tested by measuring both the frequency and the quality with which people come in contact with incarcerated individuals. In regards to the consequences of these perceptions, one could test whether holding exaggerated and inaccurate beliefs about incarceration demographics affects preferences for harsher criminal justice policies. Implications Our results bear on several longstanding issues in social psychology. First, they bear on longstanding issues regarding accuracy and inaccuracy in social perception in general. They demonstrate that accuracy and bias are not mutually exclusive (see also Jussim, 1991; Kenny, 1994); both often occur simultaneously. That is a particular belief – say, a belief about the proportion of the incarcerated who are Black – may be both biased (people systematically overestimate that proportion) and accurate (they nonetheless are fairly close to reality in their understanding of the proportion of the incarcerated who are Black compared to the proportion who are White, Latino, etc.). Second, they bear on longstanding questions regarding stereotypes. Despite the extent to which the ingroup bias and exaggeration hypotheses pervade the literature, we found relatively little evidence to support them in this research. Instead, results strongly suggested that people’s errors regarding the demographics of incarceration largely arise from system justification motives. This is important because it indicates that these stereotypes of subordinate groups may act as legitimizing myths in maintaining the status quo. Third, results consistently showed that consensual stereotypes were more, and sometimes much more, accurate than were individual stereotypes. Despite longstanding claims emphasizing the unjustified nature of shared cultural stereotypes as social myths (Allport, 1954; Katz & Braly, 1933; Miller & Turnbull, 1986), the present study and much prior empirical research (see Jussim et al, 25

Authors: Ragusa, Laura.
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Incarceration Beliefs
Future studies could also seek to test additional stereotyping hypotheses, as well as the 
consequences of holding accurate versus inaccurate beliefs about incarceration. For example, the 
contact hypothesis (Allport, 1954) may be tested by measuring both the frequency and the quality 
with which people come in contact with incarcerated individuals. In regards to the consequences of 
these perceptions, one could test whether holding exaggerated and inaccurate beliefs about 
incarceration demographics affects preferences for harsher criminal justice policies.
Implications
Our results bear on several longstanding issues in social psychology.  First, they bear on 
longstanding issues regarding accuracy and inaccuracy in social perception in general.  They 
demonstrate that accuracy and bias are not mutually exclusive (see also Jussim, 1991; Kenny, 1994); 
both often occur simultaneously.  That is a particular belief – say, a belief about the proportion of the 
incarcerated who are Black – may be both biased (people systematically overestimate that proportion) 
and accurate (they nonetheless are fairly close to reality in their understanding of the proportion of 
the incarcerated who are Black compared to the proportion who are White, Latino, etc.).  
Second, they bear on longstanding questions regarding stereotypes.  Despite the extent to 
which the ingroup bias and exaggeration hypotheses pervade the literature, we found relatively little 
evidence to support them in this research.  Instead, results strongly suggested that people’s errors 
regarding the demographics of incarceration largely arise from system justification motives.  This is 
important because it indicates that these stereotypes of subordinate groups may act as legitimizing 
myths in maintaining the status quo. 
Third, results consistently showed that consensual stereotypes were more, and sometimes 
much more, accurate than were individual stereotypes.  Despite longstanding claims emphasizing the 
unjustified nature of shared cultural stereotypes as social myths (Allport, 1954; Katz & Braly, 1933; 
Miller & Turnbull, 1986), the present study and much prior empirical research (see Jussim et al, 
25


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