The flip side of the other-race coin: They all look different to me

Laurence, Sarah; Zhou, Xiaomei and Mondloch, Catherine J. (2015). The flip side of the other-race coin: They all look different to me. British Journal of Psychology, 107(2) pp. 374–388.



Poorer recognition of other‐race faces than own‐races faces has been attributed to a problem of discrimination (i.e., telling faces apart). The conclusion that ‘they all look the same to me' is based on studies measuring the perception/memory of highly controlled stimuli, typically involving only one or two images of each identity. We hypothesized that such studies underestimate the challenge involved in recognizing other‐race faces because in the real world, an individual's appearance varies in a number of ways (e.g., lighting, expression, hairstyle), reducing the utility of relying on pictorial cues to identity. In two experiments, Caucasian and East Asian participants completed a perceptual sorting task in which they were asked to sort 40 photographs of two unfamiliar identities into piles such that each pile contained all photographs of a single identity. Participants perceived more identities when sorting other‐race faces than own‐race faces, both when sorting celebrity (Experiment 1) and non‐celebrity (Experiment 2) faces, suggesting that in the real world, ‘they all look different to me'. We discuss these results in the light of models in which each identity is represented as a region in a multidimensional face space; we argue that this region is smaller for other‐race than own‐race faces.

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