Facial differences question.

Why do people of other races look all the same to me? Is it because I am not accustomed to their facial characteristics?

Also, do animals all look the same or is it the same principle as above?

It took me a little while to figure out what you mean.

I think it’s just that you’ve probably been exposed to more of the characteristics present within your own race. You use these to ‘classify’ those within that group. However, you see less people of other races, so their race alone is enough to ‘classify’ them.

Thanks. :slight_smile:

Yes. There was a study done on this some years ago. Those who were accustomed to being around people of a different race had no trouble identifying individuals of that race, while those who were not so accustomed had difficulty.

Parents and others with close contact can even learn to distinguish between identical twins or triplets after a while, even though outsiders to the family would be hard pressed to tell them apart.

Yes, same principle. You have to learn what to look for to identify individuals of various animal species. Researchers in the field eventually get astoundingly good at identifying individuals of the animal species they’re studying.

These Straight Dope columns by Cecil Adams may be of interest:

How come white people don’t all look alike? (1982)

Do other races really look more alike? (2003)

I’ve always wondered something about this that I haven’t heard explained. To whit: there is special hardware in the brain for recognizing faces - and that makes sense; it’s an important skill for humans, and it must depend on some pretty sophisticated processing. Is it possible that these parts are atuned to recognize folks of your own race? Since racial differences come about because populations are isolated from one another, than it would seem to make sense to me that my brain would be designed to look at the features that are most variable on the faces of the folks around me. Thus, eye color and hair color for one, since I’m white and these vary more among whites than nonwhites. Cecil mentions in one of those columns some of the features that are most variable in different races, and of course they are rather different.

And, in a semi-hijack, is there any research on exactly what is examined by our brains in recognizing faces? There’s a certain gestalt feeling I get from each face - it’s of course not “Oh, look at the space between the upper lip and nose. That’s gotta be Jim!” So is it known what particular features these gestalts are derived from? And whether they vary much from person to person? That would explain some to me why some pairs of people might look similar to me, while another observer might disagree completely.

I live in China and people here have told me that they also wonder why most Chinese people(the Han, anyway) all look about the same and white people have such obvious variety(i.e. hair color).

So it puzzles them too.