We at psych2go are pretty sure that many of you have heard jokes that some people of a similar ethnicity all seem to look alike. But did you know that most people are genuinely worse at recognising individual faces of people from a different ethnicity? In witness line-ups, researchers found that people identifying suspects from a different ethnical background were 45% accurate, while people identifying suspects of the same ethnical background were 60% accurate (Behrman & Sherrie) – this is a statistically significant difference, which means that it’s not the result of coincidence. Do you think this could be used to fight racism?
Us and them
At the core of most racism-related issues is the ingroup and outgroup theory. The ingroup is any group you feel like you belong to, which can be different depending on the situation. For example, you may feel like belonging to a certain group concerning your sexual identity, or belong to a group of people with the same hobby. The outgroup are all people who, for that situation do not belong to the same group. So concerning ethnicity, the ingroup would be people who have the same ethnicity.
Ethnicities and drinks
But how come something so natural and instinctive as recognising faces depends on which ethnicity you belong to? How come we notice more individual traits in people we arguably share more genetic material with? It partly because of the environment you grew up with. Of course nowadays segregation is not as strong as it was decades ago, but as we arguably spend most of our time with our family – with whom we often (but not always) share genetic material – or live in neighbourhoods with people of similar socioeconomic status, we encounter people who are similar. This also makes it more relevant for us to recognise them by smaller identifiable traits. Let’s clarify this by comparing us humans to beverages.
The more varieties of wine (or brands of coke) you drink, the more you start noticing nuances and differences between them. This wine tasting ‘effect’ is actually a key component in reducing the implicit racial bias of the Cross-Race effect. Because you can actually train yourself and others at becoming better at recognizing faces of people from a different ethnicity. Researchers helped children with learning to recognize individual faces through Perceptual Individuation Training.
Long term effects of training
These researchers found that this effect is actually long term, not just temporary. In turn this leads to reduced perception of the ingroup and outgroup difference. People feel more familiar and recognisable, a bit more like "us". This exposure helps to become more open and accepting of others (Qian, Quinn, Heyman et al.). This effect suggests that exposing children to a wide diversity of faces will help them grow up to be more more ethnically open minded adults. This may help fight racism!
More from us:
Behrman, Bruce W.; Davey, Sherrie L. (2001). "Eyewitness identification in actual criminal cases: An archival analysis". Law and Human Behavior.25 (5): 475–491.
Qian, K. Miao. Paul C. Quinn, Gail D. Heyman, Olivier Pascalis, Genyue Fu, Kang Lee. “A long Term Effect of Perceptual Individuation Training on Reducing Implicit Racial Bias in Prescool Children.” Child Development, 2017. Web.