Questions for ‘Heartbeat can affect racial perception of threat’


When police answer an emergency call, they may need to make quick life-or-death choices — and a wrong decision has sometimes had fatal impacts.

Whpq/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

To accompany feature “Heartbeat can affect racial perception of threat


Before Reading

1.  Police-officer-associated shootings of unarmed men have been all over the U.S. news in recent years. What have you heard about any role of race in these events?

2.  Police often have argued that they had thought they had a seen a weapon on a suspect, when no weapon later turned up. Do you think they were mistaken? Or just careless? Explain your impressions.

3.  Name two stereotypes that you’ve heard mentioned in your family, community or news. What basis, if any, are you aware of to support those stereotypes.

During Reading:

1.  How old was Tamir Rice when he was shot? And was he armed?

2.  According to the article, U.S. police have killed how many unarmed people in the last three years?      

3.  In 2015, how much more likely was an unarmed black man to be killed by police officers, compared to an unarmed white man, based on data from the cited Washington Post analysis?

4.  What is the difference between regular bias and “implicit” bias?

5.  Describe the difference between systole and diastole.

6.  In the study by Tsakiris’ group, which — systole or diastole — was more associated with a white person’s perception of a black person as a threat?

7.  What are baroreceptors?

8.  Where is the amygdala and what behavioral perceptions are associated with it?

9.  Which stereotype (mentioned in the story) was not affected by the phase of someone’s heartbeat?

10.  In a 2012 study, what type of behavior did Gordon Moskowitz’s group show they could alter?

After Reading

1.  If the findings of the Tsakiris team holds up, some people might argue that it gives police an “excuse” for erring in their perception of the threat that someone poses. Explain why you do or do not agree with this argument. And what are the implications, for a community, of knowing about this effect that an officer’s heartbeats might have?

2.  What does the work by Moskowitz’s group suggest about the role of stereotyping — and the value of working to alter those stereotypes?

3.  From what you have read, do you think black police officers would be as likely to shoot unarmed white suspects (as the other way around)? How about an unarmed black suspect? Explain your reasoning.