Upfront

Profiling racial minorities could lead to an increase in illicit activity by non-minorities, according to a new study online in the June 17, 2013, issue of the journal Law and Human Behavior. The study's researchers found that when black students were singled out and watched for dishonesty, white students cheated more during tests.

Lead author Amy A. Hackney, PhD, of Georgia Southern University, and co-author Jack Glaser, PhD, of the University of California, Berkeley, conducted experiments with 278 students, of whom 72 percent were white and 60 percent were female. The researchers divided the students into groups in separate classrooms, averaging six students per group that were all white, all black or mixed. The researchers had each student unscramble difficult anagrams and told them the exercise was a test of their cognitive skills. Researchers allowed the students to score their own tests using answers provided at the back of the test — opening a door for them to cheat.

"Our study found an unintended consequence — that when confronted with African-Americans being profiled, whites became more dishonest while the black subjects' honesty did not vary," says Hackney.

The researchers also found that the black students did not cheat more when they were in classrooms with white students who were closely monitored to prevent cheating. In fact, the cheating among black students remained about the same whether they were in all-black classes with some of the students singled out or in mixed-race or single-race classes with no students being profiled.

The authors say further research will be necessary to confirm whether the same behavior occurs in real-world cases of profiling, such as New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk policy, which was recently ruled unconstitutional in district court.

— R. Tricoles