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The Eyes Have It

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Originally posted on August 12, 2014.

One of social psychology’s intriguing and oft-replicated findings is variously known as the “own-race bias,” the “other-race effect,” and the “cross-race effect”—all of which describe the human tendency to recall faces of one’s own race more accurately than faces of other races. “They”—the members of some other group—seem to look more alike than those in our own group. 

With greater exposure to other-race faces, as when residing among those of a different race, people improve at recognizing individual faces.  Still, the phenomenon is robust enough that social psychologists have wondered what underlies it.  In the July Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a research team led by Kerry Kawakami at York University offers a possible contributing factor:  When viewing faces during several experiments, White participants attended more to the eyes of White people, and to the nose and mouth of Black people.  Eye gaze, they reason, is “individuating”—it helps us discern facial differences.  Thus the ingroup eye-gaze difference may help explain the own-race bias.

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About the Author
David Myers received his psychology Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. He has spent his career at Hope College, Michigan, where he has taught dozens of introductory psychology sections. Hope College students have invited him to be their commencement speaker and voted him "outstanding professor." His research and writings have been recognized by the Gordon Allport Intergroup Relations Prize, by a 2010 Honored Scientist award from the Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences, by a 2010 Award for Service on Behalf of Personality and Social Psychology, by a 2013 Presidential Citation from APA Division 2, and by three dozen honorary doctorates. With support from National Science Foundation grants, Myers' scientific articles have appeared in three dozen scientific periodicals, including Science, American Scientist, Psychological Science, and the American Psychologist. In addition to his scholarly writing and his textbooks for introductory and social psychology, he also digests psychological science for the general public. His writings have appeared in four dozen magazines, from Today's Education to Scientific American. He also has authored five general audience books, including The Pursuit of Happiness and Intuition: Its Powers and Perils. David Myers has chaired his city's Human Relations Commission, helped found a thriving assistance center for families in poverty, and spoken to hundreds of college and community groups. Drawing on his experience, he also has written articles and a book (A Quiet World) about hearing loss, and he is advocating a transformation in American assistive listening technology (see For his leadership, he received an American Academy of Audiology Presidential Award in 2011, and the Hearing Loss Association of America Walter T. Ridder Award in 2012. He bikes to work year-round and plays daily pick-up basketball. David and Carol Myers have raised two sons and a daughter, and have one granddaughter to whom he dedicates the Third Edition of Psychology in Everyday Life.