Attending to threat: Race-based patterns of selective attention

Sophie Trawalter, Andrew R. Todd, Abigail A. Baird, Jennifer A. Richeson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

177 Scopus citations


The present research investigated the extent to which the stereotype that young Black men are threatening and dangerous has become so robust and ingrained in the collective American unconscious that Black men now capture attention, much like evolved threats such as spiders and snakes. Specifically, using a dot-probe detection paradigm, White participants revealed biased attention toward Black faces relative to White faces (Study 1). Because the faces were presented only briefly (30-ms), the bias is thought to reflect the early engagement of attention. The attentional bias was eliminated, however, when the faces displayed averted eye-gaze (Study 2). That is, when the threat communicated by the Black faces was attenuated by a relevant, competing socio-emotional cue-in this case, averted eye-gaze-they no longer captured perceivers' attention. Broader implications for social cognition, as well as public policies that reify these prevailing perceptions of young Black men are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1322-1327
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2008


  • Racial and ethnic attitudes
  • Social cognition
  • Social perception
  • Threat
  • Visual attention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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