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Do foreign faces look alike?

05 August 2010 University of Teesside

Most people find it much harder to recognise faces of people from other races than their own.

Why is this? And does it matter? These questions are being tackled by Teesside University academic Dr Kazuyo Nakabayashi, who has won a £80,000 grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to lead a 15-month research project.

“With CCTV picture quality still pretty poor the police rely on eye-witnesses when there is an incident, say a man attacked in a town centre.

“But if all the victim and other and eye-witnesses can say was that the attacker was a Japanese man, it doesn’t give the authorities much to work on for the picture portrait,” says Dr Kazuyo Nakabayashi, a Senior Lecturer in Psychology with the University’s Social Futures Institute.

During the 15-month research project funded by the ESRC, Dr Nakabayashi will carry out experiments in Japan and the UK and collate behavioural and eye movement data.

“There appear to be some levels of stereotyping, or cognitive shortcuts, when it comes to facial recognition of people from different races, but we don’t have a satisfactory explanation for this.

“The research will examine the perceptual and cognitive processes underlying cross-racial recognition. Understanding more about these mechanisms will have important theoretical and practical implications, for example in eyewitness testimonies”, she says.

The study will involve asking students from different races to look at Oriental and Caucasian faces in photographs and online and will examine the ‘recognition keys’ they use – their eye movement, for example.

“We will record eye movements while people look at a set of white faces and a set of oriental faces to find out which parts of the face they look at and how much time they spend on each feature. After that they will be asked to identify the faces just presented from a larger set of faces.”

Dr Nakabayashi will be the principal investigator for the research team, which includes Toby Lloyd-Jones, Professor of Psychology at Swansea University, Amina Memon, Professor of Psychology at University of London Royal Holloway, and research fellow Natalie Butcher based at Teesside University.

Attached files

  • Dr Kazuyo Nakabayashi

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