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Research & Publications

Race & Real-World Judgments

Race and Real-World JudgmentsSome of the most controversial issues in contemporary society revolve around the relationship between race and social judgment. For example, in the wake of a recent spate of high-profile trials, pundits and scholars have debated the extent to which a defendant's race affects the charging decisions of prosecutors, the memory of eyewitnesses, the deliberations of juries, and the jury selection tendencies of attorneys. These are the types of questions that we have studied empirically.

For example, in mock juror experiments we have found that the race of a defendant affects White and Black mock jurors' judgments. For White jurors, bias against Black defendants does not tend to emerge in racially-charged cases as one might expect, but rather in trials without blatantly racial issues, a finding consistent with psychological theories of modern prejudice. We have also examined the influence of race on the jury selection tendencies of attorneys. Despite a Supreme Court prohibition against considering race in the use of peremptory challenges—the practice by which attorneys can remove a juror without explanation—our research using experimental research methods has demonstrated not only that such challenges are indeed influenced by race, but also the facility with which attorneys are able to provide plausible race-neutral justifications for these judgments.

Another domain in which we have examined the influence of race is the popular media. The extent to which race influences the nature of media depictions—not to mention the decision whether to even cover an event in the first place—is often the topic of public debate. Such discourse typically relies on intuition and anecdotal data, but we believe psychological theory and methods have much to offer this analysis. In one such example, we wrote an article evaluating the impact of race on media coverage of Hurricane Katrina, with a particular focus on language use and exaggeration of violence.


Gaither, S. E., & Sommers, S. R. (2013). Honk if you like minorities: Vuvuzela attitudes predict outgroup liking. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 48, 54-65.

Cohn, E. S., Bucolo, D., & Sommers, S. R. (2011). Race and racism. In B. L. Cutler (Ed.), Conviction of the innocent: Lessons from psychological research. American Psychological Association: Washington, DC.

Pauker, K., Ambady, N., Weisbuch, M., Sommers, S. R., Adams, R. B., & Ivcevic, Z. (2009). Not so black and white: Memory for ambiguous group members. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 795-810. View pdf

Sommers, S. R., & Ellsworth, P. C. (2009). "Race salience" in juror decision-making: Misconceptions, clarifications, and unanswered questions. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 27, 599-609. View pdf

Sommers, S. R. (2008). Determinants and consequences of jury racial diversity: Empirical findings, implications, and directions for future research. Social Issues and Policy Review, 2, 65-102. View pdf

Sommers, S. R., & Norton, M. I. (2008). Race and jury selection: Psychological perspectives on the peremptory challenge debate. American Psychologist, 63, 527-539. View pdf

Norton, M. I., Sommers, S. R., & Brauner, S. (2007). Bias in jury selection: Justifying prohibited peremptory challenges. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 20, 467-479. View pdf

Sommers, S. R. (2007). Race and the decision-making of juries. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 12, 171-187. View pdf

Sommers, S. R., & Norton, M. I. (2007). Race-based judgments, race-neutral justifications: Experimental examination of peremptory use and the Batson challenge procedure. Law and Human Behavior, 31, 261-273. View pdf

Sommers, S. R., Apfelbaum, E. P., Dukes, K. N., Toosi, N., & Wang, E. J. (2006). Race and media coverage of Hurricane Katrina: Analysis, implications, and future research questions. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 6, 39-55. View pdf

Sommers, S. R., & Ellsworth, P. C. (2001). White juror bias: An investigation of racial prejudice against Black defendants in the American courtroom. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 7, 201-229.
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Sommers, S. R., & Ellsworth, P. C. (2000). Race in the courtroom: Perceptions of guilt and dispositional attributions. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26, 1367-1379.
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