News from Brock University in Niagara, Ontario
Posted June 23rd, 2016 on Niagara At Large
Niagara, Ontario – New Brock research about the influence of race and age on the judgment of faces has implications on everything from grandparents picking up kids from school to border guards matching faces to identification cards.
The research shows that other-race and older adult faces are hard to recognize perhaps because people are less able to judge differences in the distinctiveness of other-race faces. And people are less able to agree on the attractiveness of both other-race and older faces compared to younger faces, according to a study published this week in the journal Perception.
The study, Judging Normality and Attractiveness in Faces: Direct Evidence of a More Refined Representation for Own-Race, Young Adult Faces, involves three experiments with Brock Professor of Psychology Catherine Mondloch heading up the research team.
In the first, groups of young Caucasian adults in Canada and young Asian adults in China were shown pairs of photos of both Caucasian and Asian faces. One photo was untouched and the other had been digitally expanded or compressed. Participants were asked to identify which face was “normal.” Both Caucasian and Asian participants were less able to detect the “normal” image of the other-race photo compared to the photo of their own race.
In the second experiment, Caucasian and Asian participants were shown photos of Caucasian and Asian faces and asked to rate their attractiveness, something that is dependent on typicality. Again, there was an own-race advantage, with more consensus for own-race faces.
Finally, groups of Caucasian young adults and senior citizens living in independent housing in the Niagara Region were shown photos of young and old faces and were asked to rate their attractiveness.
Both groups agreed more on the younger faces they found attractive compared to the older faces.
This is because our mental image of what we define as being a “normal” face is less developed for other-race and older faces, says lead author Xiaomei Zhou.
“This is the first study where we provide direct and strong evidence suggesting that, actually, our face recognition models are less refined for these unfamiliar face categories,” she says.
Having a “normal” face prototype is what allows us to remember faces, says Mondloch.
“When I look at you, I don’t actually store a representation of your face,” she says. “I store the ways in which your face differs from the average. So, if somebody has especially wide-set eyes, I’ll store that in my mind, but if they have an average nose, then that’s going to help me less to recognize them later.”
And, the fact that people are less able to agree on the attractiveness of an older face means that there isn’t a commonly held mental image of a “typical” older face, she says.
The research has far-ranging implications for society. For example, Zhou notes that kindergarten teachers need to be able to recognize parents or grandparents who pick up their children at school to ensure the children’s safety.
Border officials need to be able to match faces with picture ID, a task made more complicated by rising photo fraud, says Mondloch. And, eyewitnesses to crimes may have a more difficult time describing the distinguishing features of older or other-race crime suspects, she says.
The Niagara Region has a high proportion of older residents, the researchers note, as well as being a multicultural community. “Even in terms of daily interactions, we’re going to have to work harder to learn a wide variety of faces,” says Mondloch.
For more, see the story in The Brock News.
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