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In the Media: Sherick Hughes on ‘racialized anger bias’

Sherick Hughes, the Samuel M. Holton Distinguished Professor, talked with BYU Radio about research findings that show that teachers often perceive Black children as angry when they are not.

The findings are important, Hughes said, because teachers often react with anger when they believe they are confronted with an angry student, leading to disproportionate disciplinary actions and other harms.

Hughes was part of a team that conducted a study documenting what the researchers termed “racialized anger bias.”

The study, published last year in the journal Emotion, involved showing video clips to 178 prospective teachers of 72 children ages 9 to 13. In the clips — evenly divided among boys and girls and Black and White children — the children’s faces expressed six emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, and disgust.

For the most part, the prospective teachers were somewhat accurate in detecting the children’s emotions, but the mistakes fit in a pattern: Boys of both races were misperceived as angry more often than girls. Black boys and girls were misperceived as angry more often than White ones. Black boys were misperceived as angry more often than any other group.

“These mistakes can have serious repercussions for Black children because anger begets anger,” Hughes said in the BYU Radio interview. “So, in an example when a teacher sees an angry child or misperceives a child as angry, they are more likely to issue a consequence to that child that’s related to anger. Then the child may protest because it’s unfair … and so it can escalate.”

Hughes said the research may help explain findings that Black children receive three times as many suspensions and expulsions in schools than do White children.

Hughes said those experiences can affect how Black children feel about their teachers and about schools in general. They also can have an impact on Black children’s sense of self, sense of self-worth, and sense of belonging in school.

The BYU Radio interview is available here.

The study:
Halberstadt, A. G., Cooke, A. N., Garner, P. W., Hughes, S. A., Oertwig, D., & Neupert, S. D. (2020). Racialized emotion recognition accuracy and anger bias of children’s faces. Emotion.