The Eyes Have It

One of social psychology’s intriguing and oft-replicated findings is variously known as the “own-race bias,” the “other-race effect,” and the “cross-race effect”—all of which describe the human tendency to recall faces of one’s own race more accurately than faces of other races. “They”—the members of some other group—seem to look more alike than those in our own group. 

With greater exposure to other-race faces, as when residing among those of a different race, people improve at recognizing individual faces.  Still, the phenomenon is robust enough that social psychologists have wondered what underlies it.  In the July Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a research team led by Kerry Kawakami at York University offers a possible contributing factor:  When viewing faces during several experiments, White participants attended more to the eyes of White people, and to the nose and mouth of Black people.  Eye gaze, they reason, is “individuating”—it helps us discern facial differences.  Thus the ingroup eye-gaze difference may help explain the own-race bias.