The negative implications of relative deprivation: An experiment of vicarious police contact and Muslims’ perceptions of police bias

Dr Harley Williamson1, Prof Kristina Murphy1, Dr Natasha S. Madon1

1Griffith University, Mt Gravatt, Australia

For decades, Muslims have experienced disproportionate scrutiny from police. Such scrutiny can result in relative deprivation; the feeling that one’s group is unfairly disenfranchised compared to other groups. Scholars have theorised that individuals who are relatively deprived may assess police-citizen interactions as more biased than individuals who are not relatively deprived. Yet, limited research tests this relationship. The current study utilises survey data collected from 502 Australian-Muslims. The survey contained an embedded vignette experiment depicting a male Muslim driver being pulled over by a police officer. The officer’s behaviour was manipulated between participants in the vignette (as procedurally just versus procedurally unjust behaviour). Participants were asked if the officer in the vignette acted in a biased manner. Findings showed that officer behaviour had a significant impact on perceptions of bias but was moderated by the degree of relative deprivation felt by the participant prior to reading the vignette. Compared to those scoring low on relative deprivation, those scoring high on relative deprivation showed less variation in police bias ratings between the procedurally just and unjust vignette conditions. Implications for the utility of relative deprivation theory in policing, particularly against the backdrop of a renewed focus on police bias, are discussed.


Harley Williamson is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Griffith Criminology Institute at Griffith University. Her doctoral thesis examined social psychological explanations of support for terrorism. Her research interests focus on counter-terrorism, social identity processes, minority groups, identity threats and policing.


Dec 08 2021