The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday December 8th

UNC research on race and height finds that tall, black men face greater threat stereotyping

The BBC, The Atlantic, Business Insider and more have said that being tall is advantageous for men, in most all regards. 

But a recent study conducted by UNC researchers calls these findings into question when taking the variable of race into context. After analyzing over 1 million stop-and-frisk records from the New York Police Department and conducting two different studies, the team concluded that being taller is not advantageous for black men. The study asserts that being taller increases "threat stereotyping" and increases the likelihood of being stopped by police.  

The Daily Tar Heel sat down with UNC graduate student Neil Hester, a lead researcher on the study, to find out a little bit more. 

The Daily Tar Heel:  How did you conduct the study, and what were the findings?

Neil Hester: The basic rundown is that the first study is an analysis of archival data from the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk program. It includes eight years of data from 2006 to 2013 and basically, we looked at over a million stops in which people provided photo ID’s, which list their height on the ID, and we analyzed the data to see at different heights, how many black men are stopped per white man. Does that ratio start to change as height increases?

DTH: And so your data found that the ratio increased as height increases?

NH: So at 5 feet 4 inches, we found that 4.5 black men were stopped per white man. At 5 feet 10 inches, that increases to 5.3 black men per white man. And then at 6 feet 4 inches, the ratio is 6.2 black men per white man.

DTH: How do you feel about studies that compare your article with studies saying that height is more advantageous for men? 

NH: The argument that we make in our paper is that work in social psychology has almost completely found, completely argued that being tall is advantageous for men. But in all of those studies, they only had people rate white targets. So we found that when you actually account for race, and include both black and white targets, you see different effects of height, such that height increases competence and intelligence for white men, but height primarily increases judgments of threat for black men.

DTH: Do you see social psychology mainly using white targets and using them as a generalization across a broad population to be a problem? 

NH: I think that that is a major concern, especially with older research. When race is not the primary concern, people just use white targets, and that’s justified by just saying that you want to hold some factors constant. If you’re interested in manipulating one thing, you don’t want to be bringing in lots of other things. But sometimes doing that can overlook key factors that might change the effects and variables. 

DTH: Tell us a little bit about the experiments that you ran.

NH: Basically in study two we manipulated the height and race of targets. Race was manipulated by taking pictures of eight white targets and eight black targets. For height, we manipulated by changing the perspective in the photo. In study three we manipulated height using just text to describe people as very tall or very short. There can be issues with using perspective manipulation like this, but the perspective manipulation is pretty evocative and drew a pretty large effect on people’s perceptions of height.

DTH: How many people took part in the experiments?

NH: Study two had 200 participants and study three had 200 participants. The participants in this (study two trial) completed 16 trials based off 16 different faces. 

DTH: What do you think the societal implications of the research are?

NH: This research shows that a subgroup of an already-discriminated-against group, in this case, tall black men, can be especially vulnerable to negative treatment and stereotypes. So, moving forward, I think that it’s important that we have a more nuanced view of new faces.

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