Social cognition is the study of how people form attribution or judgments about themselves and the social world from the social information they received from their environment (Chapter Review, 2010). However, it was discovered often marked by apparent errors and biases. People make quick judgment based on their past experiences, hence at times leading to tragic endings. The Amadou Diallo case study was an example of the tragic error which was made by four New York City Police officers.
The police shooting of an unarmed man was an act of automatic inferences which happens when people use mental shortcuts to simplify the amount of information they receive from the environment. Automatic thinking is known as the thinking that is unconscious, unintentional, involuntary and effortless (Taylor, Peplau, & Sears, 2006). While, schemas are mental structure people use to arrange their information regarding the social world around themes or subjects: schemas affect what information we notice, think about, and remember (Chapter Review, 2010).
During the incident February 4, 1999, Carroll had made a low-effort automatic thinking with schemas when Diallo reached into his jacket to get his wallet by assuming that Diallo was reaching for a gun in his pocket, and shouted “Gun! ” to alert his colleagues. Officer Carroll’s action was due to his natural instinct or response as most criminal would reach into their pocket for gun during the detection of police officers. He had use schemas to form an expectation of the event in which made him to expect a gun pulling out of Diallo’s jacket rather than his wallet.
As he attends to his schema-consistent knowledge: criminals would pull out guns from their jacket when they spotted police officers; his schemas filtered out any inconsistent information: Diallo reached in his jacket to get his wallet; had caused the NYPD officers to fire at Diallo. Besides that, there are also a few theories or concept under automatic thinking with schemas that had shown relevance to the Amadou Diallo case study, such as, accessibility. Accessibility is the ease with which schemas can be brought to one’s mind (Taylor, Peplau, & Sears, 2006).
The four police officers had practiced accessibility when they saw Diallo ran up the outside steps toward his apartment house doorway at their approach, ignoring their orders to stop and “show his hands”. When they saw Diallo ran after they claimed to have identified themselves as NYPD officers, they might assume that Diallo was the serial rapist they were searching for, as logically a serial rapist or a criminal would ran when approached by police officers to avoid getting caught.
The ease of the thought that criminals would run when they spotted police officers, had made the four police officers to identified Diallo as a criminal, although that was not the truth in Diallo’s case. As a result, a firestorm had unfortunately occurred. Furthermore, the four police officers had practice priming in this case study. Priming is the process which related to recent experience that made schemas or concept to come to one’s mind more readily (Taylor, Peplau, & Sears, 2006).
For example, when Officer MeMellon fell down the steps, appearing to be spot, the other three officers might assume that Diallow had fire a gunshot towards Officer McMellon hence causing him to fell down those steps because they had linked it to their recent experiences of gunshot and thought that Officer McMellon had been spot and that Diallo had shot him with his gun. As one would logically fall back when shot. Perseverance effect was also shown in this case study.
Perseverance effect is known as the tendency for people’s beliefs about themselves and their world to persist even when those beliefs are discredited (Taylor, Peplau, & Sears, 2006). When the four NYDP officers thought Diallo matched the description of a (since-captured) serial rapist, it might be due to the fact that Amadou Diallo was an immigrant to the United States and the four police officers could have the belief that immigrants are the major causal crime increment in the Unites States.
Hence resulting the police officers to think the worse out of Diallo when he ran and even though he was reaching into his jacket to get his wallet, the police officers had persisted that the square object had been of a firearm although in logical terms both wallet and gun do not share the same shape and size. On the other hand, people also tend to use mental strategies and shortcuts to organize and make sense of their social world, especially when they are lack of full processing time, lack of solid information to use for decision making, information overload, or when the issues are not important to them (Taylor, Peplau, & Sears, 2006).
Mental strategies and shortcuts help people to make decisions easier and allow them to get on with their lives and not turn every decision into a major hurdle. Four NYDP officers had practise judgmental heuristics when they made judgments about Diallo. Police officers thought Diallo had matched the description of a (since-captured) serial rapist. This might be because that Diallo was a dark skin immigrant which had logically matched the description of the serial rapist leading officers to made a quick decision so that they do not need analyse in detailed and make a major hold-up over the matter.
Furthermore, the four police officers also did performed availability heuristic in this case. Availability heuristic is a mental rule of thumb whereby people base a judgment on the ease with which they can bring something to their mind (Taylor, Peplau, & Sears, 2006). During the incident, Diallo had been mistaken that he was reaching into his jacket to get his firearm whereas he was actually reaching to get his wallet. Officer Carroll had shouted “Gun! ” to his colleagues.
His judgment might be due to his ease with which he can bring to his mind, which in this case, was automatically thinking that Diallo’s wallet was a gun, hence warned his colleagues about the matter. Attitude heuristic is the determination of what is “true” based upon an individual’s feelings towards or for a matter (Taylor, Peplau, & Sears, 2006). The four police officers also had carried out attitude heuristic towards Amadou Diallo. For example, these police officers might dislike Diallo because he was an immigrant or ‘black’ person therefore assuming that Diallo’s intention, plan, or doings would also be bad too.
This caused Diallo to be misinterpreted to be a criminal trying to escape from police detention rather than his true intention, which was believed to initially intend to show the NYPD officers his identification card in his wallet before he wrongly shot. Besides theories and concept of automatic thinking with schemas, the Amadou Diallo case had also displayed a few relevant theories of social perception. During the incident, the four police officers had displayed the attribution theory. Attribution theory is a description of the way which people explain the causes of their own and other people’s behavior (Taylor, Peplau, & Sears, 2006).
It is because that Diallo had run up the outside steps of his apartment after they claimed to identified themselves as NYPD officers, and that he had reached into his jacket, the police officers have made a cause and effect explanation towards Diallo’s behavior hence assuming that he was a criminal or the serial rapist they were searching for, therefore Diallo had run up in the attempt to escape and when he reached into his jacket for his wallet, they thought that he was reaching for his gun to defend himself. Due to this theory, it made sense of he reason four police officers have assumed that Diallo was a criminal and they had to fire back Diallo. All this might be due to the attachment of meaning they decode from Diallo’s nonverbal behavior. In addition, the fundamental attribution error was also shown in the incident when the four police officers have focus on Diallo’s action to run and reached into his jacket, rather than the situation causes of his action, which was intending to reached into his jacket to get his wallet to show the police officers that he was innocent when he was approached by the police officers and asked to “show his hands”.
Fundamental attribution error is known as the tendency to overestimate the extent to which a person’s behavior is due to internal, dispositional factors and to underestimate the role of situational factors, one reason people make fundamental attribution error is because the observer only put their attention on the actor, while ignoring the situational causes of the actor’s behavior (Taylor, Peplau, & Sears, 2006). Furthermore, Diallo had also displayed the spotlight effect in this case study.
The spotlight effect is the tendency to overestimate the extent to which our actions and appearance are salient or clear to others (Taylor, Peplau, & Sears, 2006). When Diallo had reached into his jacket to get his wallet, he might had assumed that the NYPD officers know or understand what he was doing, which in his case, was the probability to take out his wallet and show them he was not the criminal or man they were searching for. However, the four police officers were not aware of his action hence assumed that he has a gun, hence fired at Diallo.
Moreover, police officers had also displayed the aggression objects as cues concept during the shooting event. Aggression objects as cue is an aggressive stimulus that act as an object that is associated with aggressive response, and whose mere presence can increase the probability of aggression (Taylor, Peplau, & Sears, 2006). The aggressive stimulus in this Diallo case is the guns that the police officers possessed. When the police officers had encountered a threatening or violent stimulus, they were more likely to “shoot” regardless of what stimulus actually appeared (Baumann & Desteno, 2010).
Due to the possession of firearms, the four police officers had the higher possibilities to response aggressively towards Diallo, hence the gun act as the object that associated with their aggressive response. Without the firearms that the four police officers possessed, the act of aggression towards Diallo would decrease therefore the firestorm would not have happened. According to Correll et al. (2002), it was found that participants’ performance shown difference regarding race of the targeted person.
When a decision making process was time limited, participants had made more errors shooting unarmed African American targets than unarmed White targets. Whereas, participants had made more errors not shooting armed White targets than armed African American targets. In other words, participants were more likely made errors evaluating African American targets as threatening compared to White targets. This means that because Diallo was a ‘black’ immigrant, it increases his rate of being shot.
This is an act of stereotype as because Diallo was a ‘black’ immigrant, they assumed that he might be a criminal, hence the police officers thereby increasing the likelihoods for certain interpretations and ensuing actions during the crucial moment, resulting them to mistaken Diallo’s wallet as a gun, hence shot him. In another words, it is like the Arabs possess guns, resulting in more frequent mistaken “shootings” of Arab men within the context of the shooter bias paradigm (Unkelbach, Forgas, & Denson, 2008).
There are also group prejudices that had been displayed in the Amadou Diallo case study. The four police officers had shown prejudice against Diallo because he was a dark-skin immigrant, hence they have ordered him to stop and “show his hands” without confirming whether he was the serial rapist they were searching for. Seeing the suspect holding a small square object, Officer Carroll yelled “Gun! ” to alert his colleagues, believing that Diallo had aimed a gun at them at close range, the officers opened fire on Diallo. Diallo was a West African immigrant with no criminal record (Cooper, 1999).
It was clearly shown the act of prejudice towards Diallo, whom was misunderstood or misinterpreted just because of his race. Furthermore, discrimination was shown in the Amadou Diallo case when the four NYPD officers had opened fire to shoot Diallo without proper investigation on his identity and the square object that he was holding during the incident. The action carried out by the four police officers was unjustified and harmful towards Diallo because he was a West American immigrant in the United States. Finally, illusory correlation was also shown in the Amadou Diallo case.
An illusory correlation is the tendency to see relationships, or correlations, between events that are actually unrelated (Taylor, Peplau, & Sears, 2006). When Diallo ran up the outside steps of his apartment and pulled out his wallet, the police officers had correlated his action to a criminal’s doing hence leading them to assume that he was a criminal ready to open fire at them in short range. These two events are distinctive and hardly correlated. Because Diallo was a West African immigrant, therefore the police officers correlated the two events together, causing Diallo his innocent life.