Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
Introduction: Society has a history of attaching meaning to colors, and few colors have been given as much attention as red and black. In many contexts, these colors have strong negative associations. Red has long been representative of danger and aggression (Young, Elliot, Feltman, & Ambady, 2013), while black represents death and evil (Adams & Osgood, 1973; Sherman & Clore, 2009). Unfortunately, color associations are not limited to clothing or advertisements; skin color is also a subject of negative associations in the form of stereotyping. Darker skinned people, especially African-Americans, have long been subjected to negative stereotypes. The current study sought to explore how black and red influence person-perception, and specifically how skin color and clothing color influence perceptions of criminal behavior.
Method: 156 participants reviewed a hypothetical crime in which a man robbed a woman for drug money. Participants were randomly assigned to see the perpetrator as a White or Black male wearing a red or gray shirt. Then they indicated how aggressive and violent the perpetrator was, followed by recommending an appropriate prison sentence for the crime.
Results: African-American participants were more likely to rate White perpetrators as more aggressive in the red shirt condition. Additionally, Black participants perceived perpetrators of both races as more prone to violence when wearing red. Lastly, an in-group versus out-group effect was observed as Black and White participants assigned longer prison sentences to perpetrators of the opposite race.
Conclusions: Color can carry meaning in impression formation contexts, and people use color information to make judgments of criminals. This work further highlights the importance of in-group and out-group relations in the domain of person perception, and it may have important real-world implications in the criminal justice system.
Merchant, Courtney, "Effects of Skin Color and Clothing Color on Perceived Violence and Aggression of Criminals" (2019). USC Aiken Psychology Theses. 45.