Why do people of other races all look alike?

I’ve seen The Departed twice, but I still don’t understand it. The first time I watched it, I was utterly confused, and the plot still didn’t make much sense on the second viewing. I know exactly why this is – it’s because I find it very hard to tell the difference between Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon. I’ve been told that this might have something to do with the “other-race effect,” which makes it difficult for us to identify people of other races or ethnic groups. But I’m not so sure – I can easily distinguish Robert DeNiro from Jack Nicholson, or Humphrey Bogart from Cary Grant.

Nevertheless, the other race effect is a well established phenomenon that we’ve known about for nearly a hundred years. “To the uninitiated American,” wrote Gustave Feingold in 1914, “all Asiatics look alike, while to the Asiatics, all White men look alike.”

But why does this happen? It could be because we have more experience of members of our own race and so find it easier remembering their faces. Or it could be because people of other races are generally perceived to have fewer unique personal attributes and, therefore, to have more in common with one another. These explanations aren’t mutually exclusive, and two recent studies provide evidence for both.

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Touch influences social judgements and decisions

APPLYING for a job? The weight of the clipboard to which your CV is attached may influence your chances of getting it. Negotiating a deal? Sitting in a hard chair may lead you to drive a harder bargain. Those are two of the surprising conclusions of a study published in today’s issue of Science, which shows that the physical properties of objects we touch can unconsciously influence our first impressions of other people and the decisions we make about them.

Josh Ackerman of the Sloan School of Management at MIT, and psychologists Chris Nocera and John Bargh of Harvard and Yale Universities, respectively, performed a series of six experiments designed to investigate whether or not the weight, texture and hardness of objects can influence our judgements of, and decisions about, unrelated events and situations. Their findings provide yet more evidence for the embodied cognition hypothesis, which states that bodily perceptions can exert a strong influence on the way we think.

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