Posts Tagged ‘Cross-Race Effect’

Own-race Bias: Why Some People Might Look The Same to You

April 16th, 2017 4 comments

As someone who is a fan of true crime podcasts, I couldn’t help but to binge-listen to the episodes of Wrongful Convictions–a podcast by the Innocence Project detailing stories of people who were convicted for crimes they did not commit. In one of the stories, a person was convicted due to the misidentification by one of the victims of the crime. This eyewitness testimony was enough to carry a 30-year-old sentence in prison.

Pattern recognition of faces of other races can vary according to the cross-race bias.
PC: The Guardian

There are several cognitive errors that could make of this eyewitness testimony (and others) unreliable. Daniel Schacter described in the Seven Sins of Memory (2001) different cognitive errors that the memory is sensitive to, including memory biases. In the case of the person wrongfully convicted, a cross-race or own-race bias could have influenced the misidentification. An own-race bias refers to the tendency of being more accurate at recognizing faces of your own race than faces of another race (Malpass & Kravits, 1969).  The bias is not exclusive to the context of eyewitness testimonies and the criminal justice system, however; you can stumble upon the own-race bias during a trivial day. For example, have you ever had a feeling that people who don’t belong to your racial category look “all the same” to you? Or have you wondered why you are very good at recognizing faces of your own racial profile yet can’t make the same accurate distinctions cross-racially? Or maybe, have you ever confused two people from outside your race because you couldn’t distinguish certain individual characteristics to make them apart? Then you’re in the right place to learn about this cross-race phenomenon! In this blog, we discuss possible mechanisms behind the cross-race bias.

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Keep Calm and Encode this Face… Then Panic and Freak Out while Retrieving It!

November 23rd, 2015 2 comments


Imagine that you are sitting in a coffee shop, peacefully eating your cannoli and sipping your latte. As you look out the window, you notice someone approach
a parked car, smash the window, and steal something out of the front seat of the car. Your calm afternoon quickly becomes anxiety-ridden: your leg bounces, your voice shakes, your heart pounds, your stomach churns, and your mind races. You catch a glimpse of the criminal’s face as they are running off, and you promptly call 911. But did you know that the anxiety that you experienced when witnessing the crime could impact your ability to remember the criminal’s face later? We tend to recognize faces pretty easily, especially when someone is familiar to us, so you’re probably thinking that you would also be able to recognize the criminal’s face without a problem. After all, you did just watch them commit a crime right in front of your eyes. PAFF_090513_anxietyperception_newsfeature Your anxiety about the situation may have impaired your ability to recognize that person’s face, though, and a recent study conducted by Curtis, Russ, and Ackland (2015) sought to determine why and how this happens. Their research wanted to see how a spike in anxiety impacts someone’s ability to remember a face. More specifically, they wanted to know when the time of onset of anxiety is most impactful (before or after seeing a face) and whether or not anxiety increases stereotypes, or assumptions about the thoughts, actions, and behaviors another group of people, when someone is recognizing a face that is a different ethnicity than their own.

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The Faulty Eyewitness Testimony–I’m sure I saw him!

April 30th, 2013 4 comments

“Most cases don’t turn on DNA evidence. Most turn on eyewitness testimony and admissions by defendants.”

—-District Attorney General of U.S.—Barry P. Staubus

It’s often said that seeing is believing, but many times our memories can be  misleading or even completely inaccurate. It might be no big deal in our daily life to mistakenly remember something, but in a courtroom, it could possibly send an innocent man to prison or even to the electric chair. One of the most frequently used and widely accepted pieces of evidence in today’s trials is eyewitness testimony, in which a witness is asked to pick the potential suspect out of a lineup, or to describe the characteristics of the perpetrator so that the police could run it through the data base and come up with an ID. However, as our memories could potentially be inaccurate, eyewitness testimonies are not always 100 percent true. In a significant number of criminal trials, the identification could be completely wrong and because the witness is “very confident” about the identification, an innocent man would wind up in jail.

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“Oh sorry, I thought you were the other Asian…”

April 29th, 2013 4 comments

asian girls

Learning names is a challenge for most of us, and we all occasionally have that one person we just can’t quite remember. But is there a pattern who we remember and who we don’t? If you belong to a minority, as I do, there’s probably been at least one time when you’ve probably been frustrated and offended because people seem to always confuse you with the few other members of your race. For example, I was one of the only two Asian girls in my high school. This inevitably led to teachers calling me Jane half the time, and Cathy the other half. But should we be offended? Or is there actual legitimacy behind this unintentional racism? The cross-race effect in memory is the idea that humans are actually better at remembering faces that are the same race as them, relative to other races. Hourihan, Fraundorf, and Benjamin further analyzed this effect in their 2013 study on how cross-race effect relates to face memory.

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