Learning to distinguish between other-race faces could help beat racism

Most of us find that people from other races look more similar to each other than people from our own race – a phenomenon dubbed the ‘other race effect’. Sophie Lebrecht and colleagues reasoned that this perceptual bias could feed into people’s implicit, non-conscious racial stereotypes. Now in an exciting new study they’ve shown that training people to distinguish among other-race faces can help reduce implicit racism.

Twenty White participants completed a test of their implicit racism towards African American people. As expected, the participants were quicker at identifying a negative word after presentation of an African American face than they were at identifying a positive word.

Half the students then received training in discriminating among African American faces, after which they re-took the implicit racism test and showed significantly reduced evidence of implicit racism. The other students, who acted as control group, were exposed to as many African American faces in the training period, but received no practice at discriminating among them. On re-testing, their implicit racism was unchanged.

The finding suggests that by improving people’s ability to discriminate among other-race faces, their implicit racial biases can be reduced. This makes intuitive sense. After all, if people from a given race all seem to look alike, then it’s not so hard to believe that they are similar in other ways too. In contrast, learning to see the visible differences between people of another race, makes it harder to lump them altogether in social and cultural ways.

“Our findings have great potential for how we understand and address the real-world consequences of racial stereotyping,” the researchers said.

ResearchBlogging.orgSophie Lebrecht, Lara J. Pierce, Michael J. Tarr, James W. Tanaka (2009). Perceptual Other-Race Training Reduces Implicit Racial Bias. PLoS ONE, 4 (1) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0004215

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

2 thoughts on “Learning to distinguish between other-race faces could help beat racism”

  1. “Pretty much anyone who isn't Black looks alike to meeee.” lol.

    This is so true for me. As a child I could never follow karate movies because except for the white haired masters, everyone else in the movie looked exactly alike to me.

    I also seriously used to wonder what would be the point of having an ID card in China or Japan when everyone looked the same.

    As I got older and had more day to day interactions with Asian people that quickly changed, so I definitely agree with this article and the poster above me.

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