Playing the face card
Ethnic similarities a matter of perception
Knight Ridder Newspapers
WASHINGTON -- In a recent episode of The Sopranos, Tony Soprano dreamed that he'd been slapped by a Buddhist monk who mistook him for another white man who'd swindled him.
"All Caucasians look alike," explained the unapologetic monk.
They often do, it turns out, at least to people who aren't Caucasian. For that matter, blacks often look alike to whites and Hispanics to Asians. It's not that people of any one race are harder to distinguish; researchers say that individual features vary equally among races. Rather, it's that people have problems telling people from another group apart.
But misidentifications aren't due to racism, said Roy Malpass, a psychology professor at the University of Texas at El Paso who has published widely on the so-called cross-race effect. "People make about 50 percent more errors," he said, when they're asked to remember faces of people from another race.
Scania de Schonen, a neuroscientist, said humans develop their recognition skills in infancy, honing them on the faces they see most often, and those are mostly of their own race. Much of that is done by the time they're 3, she believes.
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SEEING IS DECEIVING
Researchers say that individual features vary equally among races and ethnicities, but people still have problems distinguishing among people of another group. The phenomenon includes ethnic, cultural and regional groups as well as racial ones.
One experiment asked subjects to study faces from their race and a different race. When the subjects looked at twice the number of faces and were asked to identify those they had seen before, they all did much better with their own race.
Dyske Suematsu, who moved to California from Japan as a teen, created a Web site that explores the "they all look alike to me" stereotype. The site displays faces of 18 Asians and asks visitors to identify the faces' nationalities. Check it out at
U.S. forces in Iraq have allowed foreign insurgents into the country because they couldn't tell Saudis or Egyptians from Iraqis.
The Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal clinic that tracks life imprisonment convictions overturned by DNA evidence, found that white eyewitnesses misidentified innocent blacks nearly twice as often as they misidentified innocent whites.
Labels: Body Language, Interracial Dating Disparity