UVic Torch -- Spring 2009
Spring 2009,
Volume 30, Number 1

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 Masterful Marsalis
Psychology Prof. Jim Tanaka: face recognition can “disrupt stereotypes.”
Photography by JOCELYN BEYAK


PSYCHOLOGISTS FROM UVIC AND BROWN UNIVERSITY IN THE US have co-authored a study suggesting unconscious racial biases can be overcome by keying on facial features.

Twenty Caucasian subjects were asked to look at photographs of African-American faces. Their unconscious biases were measured by a test that asked them to say whether words associated with the faces were factual or nonsense. The researchers found the subjects responded more quickly if the associated word was negative.

In the next stage, half of the subjects were trained to recognize individual African-American faces. The others were trained to tell only if the faces were African-American or Chinese. When they repeated the first test, those who had learned to recognize individual faces lowered their bias score. The group trained only to differentiate between races did not lower their score.

“We are much better at recognizing people from our own race than we are from other races,” says UVic’s Jim Tanaka. “If we can’t individuate people from other-race faces, we’ll tend to categorize them and this will play into stereotypes. If you’re trained to individuate other-race faces, that seems to help disrupt stereotypes.”

The findings were published in PLoS One, an online journal of the Public Library of Science.

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