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Imprisoned Imperceptions: Inaccuracy in Incarceration Demographic Stereotypes
Unformatted Document Text:  Incarceration Beliefs and rationalize existing power and status arrangements. Consequently, it predicts that, regardless of one’s own group memberships, one’s stereotypes will systematically favor high status or dominant groups over low status or subordinate groups. Applied to the present study, system justification theory predicts that people will underestimate the proportion of imprisoned members of advantaged social groups (i.e., Whites; men; high school graduates) and overestimate the proportion of imprisoned members of disadvantaged social groups (i.e., women; Blacks; Latinos; mentally ill). An ingroup bias effect? The ingroup bias hypothesis, one of the most well-established principles of intergroup perception and relations (Billig & Tajfel, 1973; Wilder, 1981), predicts that people will tend to view their own groups more favorably than other groups. According to this hypothesis, perceivers should underestimate the rate of incarceration of their own social groups. For example, Whites should underestimate White incarceration rates, and Blacks should underestimate Black incarceration rates. Exaggeration of real group differences? Since at least Allport (1954; see also Campbell, 1967; Tajfel, 1981; Wilder, 1986), so many reviews have concluded that stereotypes lead people to exaggerate real group differences that this claim is now routine in social psychology textbooks (e.g., Aronson, 2007; Baumeister & Bushman, 2007). In the case of the present study, this means that people will perceive greater differences between group incarceration levels than really exist. For example, if 35% of the prison population is White (and thus 65% is non-White), then there is a 30 percentage point real difference. If, however, people estimate that only 25% of the prison populations is White (and thus 75% non-White), then this 50 point difference is an exaggeration of real group differences. Such a result would be consistent with the exaggeration hypothesis: that racial stereotypes regarding imprisonment led to the exaggeration of the real differences in stereotype- consistent ways. 6

Authors: Ragusa, Laura.
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Incarceration Beliefs
and rationalize existing power and status arrangements.  Consequently, it predicts that, regardless of 
one’s own group memberships, one’s stereotypes will systematically favor high status or dominant 
groups over low status or subordinate groups.  Applied to the present study, system justification 
theory predicts that people will underestimate the proportion of imprisoned members of advantaged 
social groups (i.e., Whites; men; high school graduates) and overestimate the proportion of 
imprisoned members of disadvantaged social groups (i.e., women; Blacks; Latinos; mentally ill).  
An ingroup bias effect?  The ingroup bias hypothesis, one of the most well-established 
principles of intergroup perception and relations (Billig & Tajfel, 1973; Wilder, 1981), predicts that 
people will tend to view their own groups more favorably than other groups.  According to this 
hypothesis, perceivers should underestimate the rate of incarceration of their own social groups. For 
example, Whites should underestimate White incarceration rates, and Blacks should underestimate 
Black incarceration rates.
Exaggeration of real group differences?  Since at least Allport (1954; see also Campbell, 
1967; Tajfel, 1981; Wilder, 1986), so many reviews have concluded that stereotypes lead people to 
exaggerate real group differences that this claim is now routine in social psychology textbooks (e.g., 
Aronson, 2007; Baumeister & Bushman, 2007).  In the case of the present study, this means that 
people will perceive greater differences between group incarceration levels than really exist.  For 
example, if 35% of the prison population is White (and thus 65% is non-White), then there is a 30 
percentage point real difference. If, however, people estimate that only 25% of the prison populations 
is White (and thus 75% non-White), then this 50 point difference is an exaggeration of real group 
differences. Such a result would be consistent with the exaggeration hypothesis: that racial 
stereotypes regarding imprisonment led to the exaggeration of the real differences in stereotype-
consistent ways.
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