For a better experience, click the Compatibility Mode icon above to turn off Compatibility Mode, which is only for viewing older websites.

NPR Interviews Professor Adam Benforado Regarding Camera Bias in Video of Covington Catholic Student

Professor Adam Benforado

January 23, 2019

An uproar surrounding a viral video of a teen interacting with a Native American elder reflects perspective bias that camera angles can create, Professor Adam Benforado said in an interview on NPR’s Morning Edition on Jan. 23.

Benforado offered insights on a video showing a Kentucky high school student standing very close to tribal elder Nathan Phillips while wearing a Make America Great Again hat at the close of a Jan. 18 anti-abortion rally in Washington D.C. that sparked pointed national debate. The student, Nick Sandmann of Covington Catholic High School, was perceived by many as showing disrespect toward Phillips.

“That’s one the of things that’s really challenging about camera perspective bias. When you’re only offered one perspective, I think all of us tend to view events and make attributions based on the shoes we’re standing in,” Benforado said. “Research that has been done in psychology, particularly in the suspect interrogation context where you put a camera behind the suspect and a camera behind the interrogator really shows how powerfully the frame matters.”

While the first video that emerged shows the encounter from Phillips’ perspective, additional footage that has surfaced displays a more complex set of circumstances, Benforado noted.

Controversy over the interaction that erupted nationwide also reflects “cultural cognition” in which individuals view events from a perspective “filtered through our backgrounds, our experiences and our identities,” Benforado said.

“The same event, say a kneeling NFL player: I can watch that that and my father-in-law, who’s a Trump supporter, can watch that. We see that completely different things." he said. "My lens is tinted by my research on racial bias and police brutality and the people I grew up with. My father-in-law who’s in his 70s has a very different set of experiences, watches very different shows. And those things matter.”

Benforado, an authority on the interactions between law and cognitive psychology, is the author of “Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice.”