Publications

Ecological Invalidity of Existing Gaydar Research: In-Lab Accuracy Translates to Real-World Inaccuracy: Response to Rule, Johnson, & Freeman (2016)

William T. L. Cox, Patricia G. Devine, Alyssa A. Bischmann, and Janet S. Hyde (2017)
Journal of Sex Research

In recent years, several empirical studies have claimed to provide evidence in support of the popular folk notion that people possess “gaydar” that enables them to accurately identify who is gay or lesbian (Rule, Johnson, & Freeman, 2016). This conclusion is limited to artificial lab settings, however, and when translated to real-world settings this work itself provides evidence that people’s judgments about who is gay/lesbian are not pragmatically accurate. We also briefly review evidence related to the consequences of perpetuating the idea of gaydar (i.e., “the gaydar myth”). Although past claims about accurate orientation perception are misleading, the work that gave rise to those claims can nevertheless inform the literature in meaningful ways. We offer some recommendations for how the evidence in past “gaydar” research can be reappraised to inform our understanding of social perception and group similarities/differences.

Experimental Research on Shooter Bias: Ready (or Relevant) for Application in the Courtroom?

William T. L. Cox and Patricia G. Devine (2016)
Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition

Police officers are charged with protecting the public, and they must make difficult life-or-death decisions in tense circumstances. High-profile instances of officers shooting innocent Black people led to a flurry of shooter bias research, which examines how race influences split-second shooting decisions. We give an overview of the evidence in this literature to date, to evaluate the robustness of the evidence related to shooter bias and police officers. The extant experimental evidence from police officer samples is mixed, and does not allow us to make any strong inferences about the role of race in officers’ shooting decisions. We then discuss whether the questions asked by shooter bias research are even relevant to the decisions jurors must make during cases of officer-involved shootings.


Inferences about sexual orientation: The role of stereotypes, faces, and the gaydar myth

William T. L. Cox, Patricia G. Devine, Alyssa A. Bischmann, and Janet S. Hyde (2016)
Journal of Sex Research

In the present work, we investigate the pop cultural idea that people have a sixth sense, called “gaydar,” to detect who is gay. We propose that “gaydar” is an alternate label for using stereotypes to infer orientation (e.g., inferring that fashionable men are gay). Another account, however, argues that people possess a facial perception process that enables them to identify sexual orientation from facial structure (Rule et al., 2008). We report five experiments testing these accounts. Participants made gay-or-straight judgments about fictional targets that were constructed using experimentally-manipulated stereotypic cues and real gay/straight people’s face cues. These studies revealed that orientation is not visible from the face—purportedly “face- based” gaydar arises from a third-variable confound. People do, however, readily infer orientation from stereotypic attributes (e.g., fashion, career). Furthermore, the folk concept of gaydar serves as a legitimizing myth: Compared to a control group, people stereotyped more when led to believe in gaydar, whereas people stereotyped less when told gaydar is an alternate label for stereotyping. Discussion focuses on the implications of the gaydar myth and why, contrary to some prior claims, stereotyping is highly unlikely to result in accurate judgments about orientation.
We advance a theory-driven approach to stereotype structure, informed by connectionist theories of cognition. Whereas traditional models define or tacitly assume that stereotypes possess inherently Group → Attribute activation directionality (e.g., Black activates criminal), our model predicts heterogeneous stereotype directionality. Alongside the classically studied Group → Attribute stereotypes, some stereotypes should be bidirectional (i.e., Group ⇄ Attribute) and others should have Attribute → Group unidirectionality (e.g., fashionableactivates gay). We tested this prediction in several large-scale studies with human participants (NCombined = 4,817), assessing stereotypic inferences among various groups and attributes. Supporting predictions, we found heterogeneous directionality both among the stereotype links related to a given social group and also between the links of different social groups. These efforts yield rich datasets that map the networks of stereotype links related to several social groups. We make these datasets publicly available, enabling other researchers to explore a number of questions related to stereotypes and stereotyping. Stereotype directionality is an understudied feature of stereotypes and stereotyping with widespread implications for the development, measurement, maintenance, expression, and change of stereotypes, stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination.

Toward a Comprehensive Understanding of Officers’ Shooting Decisions: No Simple Answers to this Complex Problem

William T. L. Cox, Patricia G. Devine, E. Ashby Plant, and Lauri L. Schwartz (2014)
Basic and Applied Social Psychology

Police officers make life-or-death shooting decisions in complex situations under extreme time pressure. If officers make a mistake, there are dire consequences—they could kill an innocent or be killed themselves. In contrast to prior work’s near-exclusive focus on suspect race, the present study examined features of methodology, officers, suspects, and neighborhoods that may affect officers’ shooting decisions. Empirical exploration of officers’ shooting decisions and mistakes is still in its infancy, and given the seriousness and importance of this phenomenon—and the potential for this research to inform policy decisions—additional research is needed. 

Stereotyping to Infer Group Membership Creates "Plausible Deniability" for Prejudice-Based Aggression

William T. L. Cox and Patricia G. Devine (2014)
Psychological Science

Participants administered painful electric shocks to an unseen male opponent who was either explicitly labeled gay or stereotypically implied to be gay. Identifying the opponent with a gay-stereotypic attribute produced a situation in which the target’s group status was privately inferred but plausibly deniable to others. Testing the plausible deniability hypothesis, we examined aggression levels as a function of internal (personal) and external (social) motivation to respond without prejudice. Whether plausible deniability was present or absent, participants high in internal motivation aggressed little and participants low in both internal and external motivation aggressed at high levels. The behavior of low internal, high external motivation participants, however, depended upon experimental condition. They aggressed at low levels when others could plausibly attribute their behavior to prejudice and at high levels when the situation granted plausible deniability. We discuss both obstacles to and potential avenues for prejudice reduction efforts.

Stereotypes, Prejudice, and Depression: The Integrated Perspective

William T. L. Cox, Lyn Y. Abramson, Patricia G. Devine, and Steven D. Hollon (2012)
Perspectives on Psychological Science

Social psychologists fighting prejudice and clinical psychologists fighting depression have long been separated by the social– clinical divide, unaware that they were facing a common enemy. Stereotypes about others leading to prejudice (e.g., Devine, 1989) and schemas about the self leading to depression (e.g., A. T. Beck, 1967) are fundamentally the same type of cognitive structure. According to the integrated perspective on prejudice and depression, negative stereotypes (i.e., schemas) are activated in a Source, who expresses prejudice toward the Target, causing the Target to experience depression. This linking of prejudice and depression (i.e., “comorbid” prejudice and depression) can occur at the societal level (e.g., Nazis’ prejudice causing Jews’ depression), the interpersonal level (e.g., an abuser’s prejudice causing an abusee’s depression), and the intrapersonal level (e.g., a person’s self-prejudice causing his or her depression). The integrated perspective addresses several longstanding paradoxes, controversies, and questions; generates new areas of inquiry; and spotlights specific methods and findings that have direct cross-disciplinary applications in the battle against prejudice and depression. Ironically, some interventions developed by depression researchers may be especially useful against prejudice, and some interventions developed by prejudice researchers may be especially useful against depression.

Long-term reduction in implicit race bias: A prejudice habit-breaking intervention 

Patricia G. Devine, Patrick S. Forscher, Anthony J. Austin, and William T. L. Cox (2012) 
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology

We developed a multi-faceted prejudice habit-breaking intervention to produce long-term reductions in im- plicit race bias. The intervention is based on the premise that implicit bias is like a habit that can be broken through a combination of awareness of implicit bias, concern about the effects of that bias, and the applica- tion of strategies to reduce bias. In a 12-week longitudinal study, people who received the intervention showed dramatic reductions in implicit race bias. People who were concerned about discrimination or who reported using the strategies showed the greatest reductions. The intervention also led to increases in con- cern about discrimination and personal awareness of bias over the duration of the study. People in the control group showed none of the above effects. Our results raise the hope of reducing persistent and unintentional forms of discrimination that arise from implicit bias.