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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman and Psychology!

In general here on CliniciallySpeaking, while we talk and engage about trending topics whether it be in politics, sports, pop culture, and tech that relate to mental health, rarely we talk about controversial topics. However the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman story has captivated the country both good and bad. I'd like to stay away from right/wrong and focus on what the psychological preconceived notions/implications that this story has on the country.
As reported by Chris Sweeney, on his blog on Trayvon Martin Killing and New Psychological Study On Gun Perception Whip Media Into Frenzy, shortly after the shooting, "psychology professors at Notre Dame and Purdue University announced a study showing that a person carrying a gun is more likely to "see guns in the hands of others". The study, slated for publication in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Perception and Performance, gave people a toy gun or a foam ball and then flashed pictures of people on a computer screen. Participants were asked to determine if the people in the pictures were a holding a toy gun or something else, like a cell phone. When the study participants were holding a toy gun, they were more likely to say the people in the picture were also holding a gun." When I read the opening line of the findings in that experiment, Does that give any justification for the actions of George Zimmerman?Something to think about...

In the world of psychology there is a terminology called Cognitive Bias and Confirmation Bias. In this case one could argue that this is going on in the aftermath and during the shooting. George Zimmerman is a racist(Cognitive Bias-Media, the Martin family and supporters), or Trayvin Martin was involved with gang-related activities(Confirmation Bias-George Zimmerman and supporters)To someone who lives no where near the shooting and does not know anything about these two people will now conjure cognitive bias as well as confirmation biased based on almost no facts about either person involved.
Interestingly, Thomas J. Leeper Ph. D., reported on his blog, that there is a fascinating study that “recently shown that we can reduce our prejudices by consciously resisting our subconscious inclinations through “thinking safe”(rather than “thinking quick”)before judging whether an object associated with a black or white face is a gun. If Zimmerman was predisposed to see criminality in Martin’s presence in the neighborhood that night, it is unlikely that he would been thinking “safe”. Motivated reasoning and subconscious prejudice can be a powerful combination and it is possible they played a role here”.  Could this have preventative a death? Again, something to think about…

In regards to eye witness in this case and any case are pretty much is useless. Eye witness testimony is relied heavily on memory.   Therefore, a good majority of what the eye witnesses have said and will say might not hold a lot of water. Finally, something to think about...

It appears that this case will be on the front pages of our newspapers, media outlets and blogs(guilty as charged) for months to come, whatever the outcome I hope there is closure from whomever wants and needs it. There are more psychological aspects to this case and many more will probably unfold as more information is divulged.  If you plan to track the story heavily please keep an open mind and allow yourself to think and analyze for yourself.

Additionally, here are some links:
*Cognitive Biases Manifest in Trayvon Martin Case
Trayvon Martin's Psychological Killer: Why We See Guns That Aren't There?
Happy Thursday!

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