All Y’all Look Alike! – The cross-race effect

In this short article I am going to shine some light on the common problem found in society when a person belonging to a particular race/culture sees members of a different race/culture as all being the same. While this is mostly considered either impolite, unethical or racist in some cases, we have to look at this stereotype from a scientific viewpoint.

First of all science tells us that is the looks of a particular individual or group that create our first impressions and that this first impression tends to linger with us for a long time. It is only thorough training, experience and education that we can change our underlying thoughts about something or somebody.

In defense of stereotyping or prejudice as being a helpful thing for humans we may look at our prehistoric and ancient ancestors that survived in order to advance the human race. They had instincts that formed stereotypes for violent predators that could have brought the extinction of the human race. We also share this instinct today, but through training, experience and education, as I have stated, we can reasonably ignore it. Take the example of a veterinarian training deadly predators in the wild.

Now we main point: It is not that we necessarily fear other races/cultures or that we are racist when saying that “All Y’all Look Alike!” when we encounter somebody different, we are all just human. And by all and different, I reference the fact that 99.9% of a person’s DNA is exactly the same as any other person’s. The 0.1% is what makes us different. But you may be thinking that these numbers can’t be right, because we all look so different. Well, scientifically, the numbers are right, but the fact that we look different has to do with our brains. They are trained to recognize differences in things that are familiar to us.


And herein lies the problem: The cross-race effect! This is the phenomena that explains why at first glimpse we see twins, for example, as being indistinguishable from one another until we get to know them better (training, experience, education). This also applies to members of another race or culture, obviously and it ties in nicely with our ancestral instincts that we talked about. By image searching “people” on Google, you will get a set of results from which you can easily distinguish one person from another, but by searching “black labradors” you will get a result of the same-looking dogs, even though they as different from each other as much as humans are.

If we were to search for “Labradors” than we would still not find differences in their facial features, but we would easily spot the varying colors that they have (from white to black) and we can easily distinguish them then. If we had 5 black dogs and 5 white dogs, we can easily separate them in a group, but to know the dogs better and to classify them by other features, we have to go deeper than just the first glimpse and train, experience and educate ourselves to spot further differences. The same can be said about human cultures.





Youtube: Vsauce and AsapScience


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