Monday, May 01, 2006

Interesting tidbits from Malcolm Gladwell (whose books, "Blink" and "The Tipping Point" are great reads) pertaining to the Duke lacrosse case... "But the Duke case is an example of another, even more problematic aspect of eyewitness identifications, and that is that we aren’t particular good at making them across races. "


The problem seems to be that when we encounter someone from a different group we process them at the group level. We code the face in our memory under the category black or white, and not under the category of someone with, say, an oval face and brown eyes and a prominent chin. Race, in other words, trumps other visual features that would be more helpful in distinguishing one person from another. Why do we do this? One idea is simply that it’s a result of lack of familiarity: that the more we “know” a racial type, the more sophisticated our encoding becomes. Another idea is that it’s a manifestation of in-group/out-group bias. The thing about coding by group and not by facial feature is that it’s a lot faster. And from an evolutionary standpoint, you’d want to use quicker processing methodologies in dealing with those who come from unfamiliar—and potentially unfriendly—groups. The bottom line is that the adage that “all blacks look the same” to whites (and all whites look the same blacks) has some real foundation.

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