THE racist proverb “you all look the same” might actually have some basis in white people’s brains and could partly explain discrimination, a scientific study suggests.
University of California and Stanford University researchers performed MRI scans on white people looking at white and black faces.
There were observable changes in the brain’s high-level visual cortex — the part of the brain that processes images — when white people looked at black faces.
“Our results suggest that biases for other-race faces emerge at some of the earliest stages of sensory perception,” psychologist Brent Hughes wrote in the paper.
Disturbingly, the “face-blindness” of white people could lead to discrimination, the study implies.
“These race biases in perception are malleable and subject to individual motivations and goals”
“We are much more likely to generalise negative experiences if we see individuals as similar or interchangeable parts of a broad social group,” Hughes said.
This dangerous bias could even lead to the wrong suspect in a crime being selected from a lineup.
The psychologist said the same study can’t be performed in reverse because it would be inaccurate — because minority groups are exposed to so many white faces.
“Members of minority groups wind up being exposed to more members of majority groups than majority members get exposed to minority members,” Hughes said.
“It could be that exposure to individuals of different groups may help the visual system develop expertise that reduces this effect.”
The psychologist added that the study was in no way an excuse for “you all look the same to me”.
“These effects are not uncontrollable,” he said.
“These race biases in perception are malleable and subject to individual motivations and goals.
“In this sense, attitudes, motives and goals can be shaping visual perceptual processes.”
The study: “Neural Adaptation to faces reveals racial outgroup homogeneity effects in early perception” was published in the journal PNAS on July 2.