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University of Michigan School of Information


SBEE seminar series: Mackenzie Alston

04/07/2021, 01:00 pm - 02:15 pm

Does Black and Blue Matter?: An Experimental Investigation of Race and Perceptions of Police Bias


High profile acts of violence by police against black civilians has renewed discussion of the racial bias held by police officers and inspired major policy pushes to increase the diversity of police departments. An underlying assumption is that a more racially diverse police department will lead to less racial bias and more public trust in police officers.

In an experiment, we examine the potential consequences of such policies. First, we test whether black and white civilians perceive a difference in the probability of punishment when interacting with white versus minority police officers. Subjects are asked to imagine that they are driving through a real but unnamed city in the United States. They are incentivized to reach their destination quickly; however, they have the potential of receiving a speeding ticket, which will reduce their earnings. Subjects are told that the probability that they receive a speeding ticket depends on their characteristics, real speeding tickets issued to people driving through that city, and information about people's general speeding behavior.

In one treatment, prior to deciding how fast they wish to drive, subjects receive a description of a city with a predominantly white police department. In the other treatment, subjects are informed that the city has a predominantly non-white police department. By comparing subjects' speed in both treatments, we are able to determine whether subjects perceive they'll be treated equally by both white and minority police officers and whether the race of the subject affects this perception.

Speaker bio: 

Mackenzie Alston

Mackenzie Alston is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics at Florida State University. Her research focuses on understanding the role of stereotypes and discrimination in settings like the labor market and schools using a combination of experiments and surveys. Her current research projects relate to how women respond to potential discrimination in the labor market, the effect of stereotypes on academic outcomes of black college students, and the influence of the social justice movement on faculty productivity.


The Social, Behavioral and Experimental Economics seminar series is a joint presentation of the School of Information, the Ross School of Business and the Department of Economics (LSA). 

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