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Systematic social observations of police-citizen encounters have revealed that citizen demeanour is an important predictor of outcomes (e.g. arrests and searches). Drawing from research on stereotypes and impression formation, we examine whether characteristics of the encounter and/or observer affect how respondents perceive demeanour. We exposed undergraduates (n = 255) to a randomly rotated series of five between-subjects design, in which characteristics of the encounter (citizen race, gender, or age; officer gender; neighbourhood context) and the level of demeanour displayed were manipulated. OLS regression was used to examine how these manipulations interact to produce our dependent variable – perceptions of demeanour – and whether characteristics of the observer matter for perceptions, independent of the manipulations. We find that some aspects of the encounter, specifically officer gender and the socio-economic context of the neighbourhood, influence perceptions of demeanour. Previous victimisation, observers’ race, and perceptions of the police also impact how demeanour is perceived. These findings suggest that understanding the impact of citizen demeanour on police-citizen encounters requires consideration of encounter and observer characteristics.




This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Policing and Society: An International Journal of Research and Policy on May 19, 2016, available online:

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