A Mixed Methods Study of Perspective-Taking, Empathy, and Trust in Police and Youth
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CitationMcadams-Mahmoud, Ayesha. 2019. A Mixed Methods Study of Perspective-Taking, Empathy, and Trust in Police and Youth. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
AbstractThe population mental health effects of negative interactions between U.S. police and urban youth of color are becoming increasingly evident. One such effect is bidirectional distrust, which reduces policing effectiveness and increases stress in both groups. Myriad police-youth dialogue programs exist to address distrust, but most fail to engage community members in their development. Further, most programs merely measure their impact on crime and psychological risk instead of promoting positive psychosocial well-being.
The main objective of this dissertation is to illustrate through three mixed methods studies the implementation and impact of a pilot police-youth dialogue program, which applied narrative-based perspective-taking to increase empathy and trust in a sample of police and urban youth (n=78) in low-resource areas of Alameda County, CA.
The first study describes how stakeholder interview data (n=21), a community-academic partnership, and ethnographic observation informed the development and implementation of the intervention. Thematic analysis of interviews revealed lessons for implementation including the essentialness of community-buy in, police partners dedicated to community engagement, and ways local politics may impact community willingness to participate.
The second study presents the quantitative findings of a multisite randomized pilot trial, which tested the effect of the 90-minute intervention (n=78) on self-reported trust, empathy, and social prejudice among officers and youth over a 4-week study period. Mixed effects regression models found the treatment group experienced significantly greater decreases in social prejudice (p=0.02) and higher satisfaction with local police-community relations (p=0.04) when compared to the control group. On average, treatment and youth subjects rated their study experiences higher than others.
The third study uses Foucauldian Discourse Analysis to examine the discursive patterns of a subset of youth and police participants (n=36) to understand differential changes in empathy and trust. We found that control group sessions modeled after traditional police-youth dialogue sessions positioned participants to reproduce top-down hierarchical dynamics, whereas treatment group sessions positioned participants to be more trusting, vulnerable, and equitable.
This is the first study of its kind to use experimental methods to test the mental health impact of storytelling in this population. Limitations and implications of this work are discussed.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:40976564