We all know that the way you dress can change others' perceptions of you, but how about the other way around? A new study from McMaster University in Canada has found that wearing a uniform similar to that of a police officer may cause you to have more bias toward those you consider to be of a lower social class. The findings could play a role in helping train officers to avoid poor judgements based on subconscious biases.

The study, now published online in Frontiers in Psychology, found that wearing clothes that resembled a police uniform was enough to change the way that ordinary students viewed people wearing hoodies. The team determined that seeing a hoodie triggered a negative response in participants, as measured by a change in reaction time. This bias only occurred when participants were wearing clothing that resembled a police uniform.

Read: Racism Is Unnatural, Study Says

"There is a stereotype out there that links hoodies with crime and violence, and this stereotype might be activated to a greater degree when donning the police style uniform,” explained senior author, Dr. Sukhvinder Obhi, in a statement on Science Daily. “This may have contributed to the changes in attention that we observed. Given that attention shapes how we experience the world, attentional biases toward certain groups of people can be problematic."

For the study, the team had 28 volunteer college students wear either a police-style uniform or mechanic overall, and perform a task in the presence of a “distractor.” This distractor was either a black or white person wearing a suit or hoodie. In this experiment, results showed that participants who wore the police outfit had a negative bias towards individuals wearing a hoodie, regardless of their race. This bias was later confirmed in two more experiments that showed a clear association between wearing a police-like uniform and having a bias towards those of perceived lower socioeconomic classes.

It is interesting that there was not more bias towards black faces over white faces, and the team note that this may be due to a clear difference between Canada, where the study was conducted, and the United States.

“It is important to point out that Canada’s black population is much smaller than the black population in the US and that the latter has a “history, culture and level of social segregation different from that in Canada” ( Manzo and Bailey, 2005),” the researchers wrote. “This specific sociocultural context in the US may explain why we did not find a race effect in our Canadian participants.”

For future studies, the team hopes to explain how uniforms affect actual police officers, and not just civilians wearing similar outfits.

This isn’t the first time that science has noted the power that a simple uniform has over the brain. For example, according to Psych Your Mind, young children recognize the importance of a police uniform, and individuals of all ages are twice as likely to obey others who are wearing a police or guard uniform.

Source: Civile C, Obhi SS. Students Wearing Police Uniforms Exhibit Biased Attention toward Individuals Wearing Hoodies. Frontiers in Psychology . 2017

See Also:

Racism is Innate: The Human Brain Makes Unconscious Decisions Based on Ethnicity

Mixed-Race People Experience Racism, But It Depends On Where They Live