Jennifer Meltzer

Perceptions of social activists: Evaluations of criminality based on race and social activism

April 2, 2021   /  

Name: Jennifer Meltzer
Major: Psychology
Advisors: Dr. Amber Garcia, Dr. Michelle Colvin

The current research studied the punishment an individual would receive for disturbing the peace, rioting, and disorderly conduct, based on their race and social activism display they participated in. A survey was created and put onto Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk). There were four descriptions created, two scenarios using a White male and two scenarios using a Black male, both scenarios the same. In the scenarios they described the acts they committed at either a Black Lives Matter movement or a Vote Now movement and the punishments they could be facing. Each participant was given one of the four scenarios to answer questions on. The results indicate that there was no significant interaction between race and the social activism movements or the punishments. If this study was conducted again or replicated in the future, I would leave the survey on MTurk for a while longer to get more diverse responses. I also would create similar scenarios using women instead of men, both African American and White women, and see if responses are different based on gender. I think that in the future it would be interesting to construct the survey in a couple of different ways. The reason I chose this topic is because stereotypes, and the criminal justice system are topics I am very passionate about and am intending to use the information I learned to educate others in my future endeavors.

Jennifer will be online to field comments on April 16:
noon-2pm EDT (PST: 9-11am, Africa/Europe: early evening)

35 thoughts on “Perceptions of social activists: Evaluations of criminality based on race and social activism”

  1. It was great to serve as your second reader and hear your perspectives on this important topic!

    1. Thank you so much Dr. Colvin for all of your questions and interests in my topic! I really enjoyed sharing my perspective and topic with you!

  2. Great work on a very important topic, Jen! It seems like participants were asked to determine if a potential punishment was fair – do you think there would be differences if participants were asked to choose whether or not someone should be punished at all? Do you think there could be differences if participants were able to choose the punishment and the severity?

    1. Thank you so much Dr. Abraham! Part of the punishment area of questions in the survey did ask a variation if they thought the individual should be punished at all. Looking at participants’ surveys individually it was seen that for the White individual they did believe that their punishment should be less severe or little to no punishment, with those answering questions about the other scenario for the African American individual participants believed that they did deserve either a harsher punishment or stayed neutral on a scale of 1(less punishment), 5(harshest punishment). There were very few participants that said the African American individual should receive a less or no punishment at all. However, there were no significant correlation with punishment when looking at the results.

  3. Important topic! If you could do a larger study, what else might you do to get a broader range of demographic diversity in participants (you mentioned length of time to leave MTurk survey open, but other thoughts on that?)

    I look forward to seeing similar projects in the future.

    1. Hi Lisa, thank you for the question. I would also look at other genders, maybe looking at how age plays a role in the thoughts and perceptions of these participants. Instead of having a 20 year old African American, or White individual maybe lowering the age or making the individual older and see if the perceptions change. I think this topic could be researched further in many different ways.

  4. Jennifer: Kudos to you on this awesome project! I’m sharing this with lots of students in the Political Science department because of its intersection with politics and its methodological rigor. Really great experimental design–congratulations!

  5. I am thrilled to listen to this- A few questions
    Why did you settle on this particular topic and were there any surprises in your findings?

    1. I chose this topic because of a Deviance and Criminology course I took last spring where I got to learn alongside male juveniles in a juvenile detention facility. I got to talk to many individuals throughout that course, and learned a lot through the course as well. I also met the social worker that worked there and she and a story from one of the juveniles inspired me to research this topic! I was surprised that my results were not significant. However, I learned a lot through this experience and through my constant research. This whole experience has helped me pick my path for my future career as a social worker within in a juvenile detention facility.

  6. Great job, Jen! If you hadn’t been limited by COVID or the time constraints of IS, would that have changed your methodology?

    1. Thank you, Gillian! I think I would have kept my methodology the same, I think that a survey was the best way to approach this topic, the only thing I would change is the time I left it on MTurk and left it on there a while longer.

  7. Great topic and very timely. I hope you can continue this with a more diverse sample.

  8. Certainly you don’t have o do this now but if you think of it, one of the things that came up in Minorities was the criminal justice system and the juvenile justice system and race. If you came across any good educational resources about that , that I could give to the girls here to educate them, feel free to let me know!

  9. Great job, Jen! It was wonderful to see you work diligently on a topic that you truly care about.

    1. Thank you, Dr. Garcia! Thank you for all your help and support during this process!

  10. This was a great and extremely relevant study, and I’m glad that you were able to choose this topic, as it means a lot to you. A big congratulations to you Jen!

  11. Excellent work, Jen. We are so proud of you and are in awe of your diligence, passion and introspection on this topic. Look out world…this girl is going to do amazing things!

  12. What a unique approach to such a sensitive current issue! The selection of these two activist movements proved an interesting contrast, and your oral definition of each provided the relevant foundation. Your keen interest in the topic inspires confidence in the future development of a positive direction for our country. Three questions: Do you think that the response of Openness to New Experiences was accurate? Why do you think that more men than women responded? Given the title of the survey, why do you think that such a large majority of the respondents were European/Caucasian?

    1. Thank you! Although there was not a significant correlation, I do think that Openness to Experience did prove to be accurate in those who did tend to rate higher in openness to experience. I think these last two questions are great questions, definitely two questions I asked myself during the results process. I am not entirely sure, however I definitely was hoping throughout my study that I would get a great range of diversity in the responses. I have tried to understand why the responses were not as diverse as I had hoped as far as demographics go, I have tried to answer this question for myself but I have found it difficult to understand or find an answer, with that being said I am not entirely sure why. I am sorry I was unable to answer some of your questions, but thank you for asking such thought provoking questions.

  13. Jen, thanks for taking on this timely topic. It was interesting to read about how you designed your experiment to study perceived “deviance” and stereotypes. Congratulations!

  14. Very timely topic, and interesting hypotheses too! Do you think the responses would have been different if you had been able to use images of suspects rather than text describing them? Thank you for sharing your work!

    1. Thank you! I do think that if pictures were used results would be more significant.

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