The Race of Perpetrators of Mass Shootings Can Affect the Public’s Perceptions About Racial and Ethnic Groups.

Larry Yang and colleagues just published new work showing how the race or ethnicity of perpetrators of mass shootings can affect the public’s perceptions about racial and ethnic groups.  If an individual hearing or reading about the shooting attributes the shooting to racial factors, they are more likely to think negatively about the entire racial group if the perpetrator’s race is different from their own. For example, they found that if a European-American person reads about the Virginia Tech shooting, where the shooter was Korean-American, and attributes the shooting at least in part to the shooter’s race, they think negatively about all Korean-Americans. But a European-American reader’s negative attitudes do not generalize to the shooter’s racial group if the shooter is from the same racial group as the reader. So if a European-American person reads about the Columbine shooting where the shooter was European-American and attributes the shooting at least in part to the shooter’s race, they do not think negatively about all European-Americans.

Also, in another condition where they primed the European American study participants to think the shooting was ‘atypical’ of the shooter’s race (i.e., that the shooting was not typical of all Korean-Americans in the Virginia Tech event), European Americans, instead of attributing the shooting to race and having negative beliefs about Korean Americans, would attribute the shooting to mental illness factors instead.

This research thus suggests that mass shootings, when committed by a person of color and when the act is attributed to their race, might affect attitudes towards that person’s entire race. These findings thus have importance for the shaping of racial attitudes in society.

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