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Imprisoned Imperceptions: Inaccuracy in Incarceration Demographic Stereotypes
Unformatted Document Text:  Incarceration Beliefs dominate social perception (see, Jussim, 2005 for a review of these controversies and the strengths and weaknesses of modern accuracy research). A particularly controversial subtopic has been the accuracy of social stereotypes (see Jussim et al, 2009, for a review). Although many perspectives tend to emphasize the inaccuracy of stereotypes (e.g., APA, 1991; Aronson, 1999; Fiske & Neuberg, 1990; Schultz & Oskamp, 2002), several studies indicate that people are fairly accurate in their perceptions of various social groups (e.g., Ryan, 1996; McCauley & Stitt, 1978; Ashton & Esses, 1999; Wolsko, Park, Judd, & Wittenbrink, 2000). This does not necessarily mean that all beliefs about all groups are accurate; rather, the extent to which perceivers hold accurate perceptions regarding the characteristics of particular social groups is an empirical question. The Present Study The present research, therefore, was designed to contribute to a greater understanding of social perception and judgment by studying these issues in a real world context in which issues of error, bias, and accuracy in social perception have not yet been investigated: People’s beliefs about the demographics of incarceration. What do people believe about the frequency of incarceration overall, and for different demographic groups? Are such beliefs approximately in touch with reality or are they woefully inaccurate? Are inaccuracies random, or do they reflect systematic errors produced by any of several possible stereotyping processes, such as ingroup bias, system justification, or exaggeration of group differences? Questions such as these go to the heart of major social psychological questions about the nature and quality of social perceptual processes in a context of real world importance. The United States imprisons a greater proportion of its population than most other countries (Tonry, 1999; World Prison Population List), with an estimated 2.3 million Americans under some form of incarceration (U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2008). Additionally, 4

Authors: Ragusa, Laura.
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Incarceration Beliefs
dominate social perception (see, Jussim, 2005 for a review of these controversies and the strengths 
and weaknesses of modern accuracy research).
A particularly controversial subtopic has been the accuracy of social stereotypes (see Jussim 
et al, 2009, for a review).  Although many perspectives tend to emphasize the inaccuracy of 
stereotypes (e.g., APA, 1991; Aronson, 1999; Fiske & Neuberg, 1990; Schultz & Oskamp, 2002), 
several studies indicate that people are fairly accurate in their perceptions of various social groups 
(e.g., Ryan, 1996; McCauley & Stitt, 1978; Ashton & Esses, 1999; Wolsko, Park, Judd, & 
Wittenbrink, 2000). This does not necessarily mean that all beliefs about all groups are accurate; 
rather, the extent to which perceivers hold accurate perceptions regarding the characteristics of 
particular social groups is an empirical question. 
The Present Study
The present research, therefore, was designed to contribute to a greater understanding of 
social perception and judgment by studying these issues in a real world context in which issues of 
error, bias, and accuracy in social perception have not yet been investigated: People’s beliefs about 
the demographics of incarceration.  What do people believe about the frequency of incarceration 
overall, and for different demographic groups?  Are such beliefs approximately in touch with reality 
or are they woefully inaccurate?  Are inaccuracies random, or do they reflect systematic errors 
produced by any of several possible stereotyping processes, such as ingroup bias, system 
justification, or exaggeration of group differences?  Questions such as these go to the heart of major 
social psychological questions about the nature and quality of social perceptual processes in a context 
of real world importance.
The United States imprisons a greater proportion of its population than most other countries 
(Tonry, 1999; World Prison Population List), with an estimated 2.3 million Americans under some 
form of incarceration (U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2008).  Additionally, 
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