We've all heard the racial phrase "they all look alike." For many individuals it is a common remark that people use to describe a different race. New research has finally revealed why many individuals have a hard time recognizing others from a different race.
In a study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, researchers suggests if individuals of one race identify themselves as a part of the same group it can improve their memory of members of a different race.
Co-author of the new study Jay Van Bavel, of New York University, and William Cunningham, of the University of Toronto, and colleagues conducted three experiments.
"One of the most robust phenomena in social perception is the finding that people are better at remembering people from their own race. This effect - called the own-race bias - is often interpreted as the consequence of perceptual expertise, whereby people spend more time with members of their own race and therefore have difficulty differentiating members of other races," Van Bavel said. "Instead, we show that people are better at differentiating members of their own race because they simply pay more attention to who is in their own group, regardless of their race."
They first test the own-race bias by assigning people to a random group, such as the "moons" or "suns." The groups include both black and white participants. Researchers instructed participants to watch a series of faces and gave them a few minutes to learn all the members of both their own group and another group. Participants were then instructed to complete a filler task and then later administered a brief memory test to see if they could remember individuals at the beginning of the study.
In the following experiment, researchers instructed certain members of the group with the role of either a "solider" of a "spy." The spies were to remain loyal to his or her group (moons or suns).
Each experiment found that race has no effect on how well an individual can remember members of another group. More often than not, participants remembered individuals of their group. More specifically, individuals who were "spies" exhibited excellent recollection for both in-group and out-group members.
"In other words, spies paid more attention to out-group members because it was part of their group identity," Van Bavel says. "If you can give people the right motivation, they will pay attention to the out-group."According to Van Bavel, the study demonstrates there are ways to improve an individuals' memory of other groups, by finding a common ground.
Van Bavel suggests instead of looking at the racial makeup, one should consider identifying themselves as an American, for example.