October 28, 2008

Barack Obama or Barry Dunham? How names influence perception of ancestry

This paper shows that the same Asian-European multiracial faces are rated more "European" if they are associated with European names and more "Asian" if they are associated with Asian names.

This should come as no surprise to participants in various online anthropology boards, where the "Guess his origin/classify" kind of topic receives widely different responses depending on how much information is released about a given subject.

This result may seem "irrational" at first: why should the exact same stimulus be perceived differently depending on an associated name?

However, I would argue that people are acting like good Bayesians in this case:

Everyone has a mental model of P(appearance | European) and P(appearance | Asian), i.e., the distribution of phenotypes expected from persons of European or Asian ancestry. A person's P(European | appearance) opinion will not only depend on the above, but also on the P(European) and P(Asian) prior, and this will, of course, be influenced by knowledge that, e.g., a person is named Ng Yat Ho or David Smith.

Perception doi: 10.1068/p6255

Barack Obama or Barry Dunham? The appearance of multiracial faces is affected by the names assigned to them

Kirin F Hilliar, Richard I Kemp


Does semantic information in the form of stereotypical names influence participants’ perceptions of the appearance of multiracial faces? Asian-Australian and European-Australian participants were asked to rate the appearance of Asian-Australian faces given typically Asian names, European-Australian faces given typically European names, multiracial faces given Asian names, and multiracial faces given European names. Participants rated the multiracial faces given European names as looking significantly ‘more European’ than the same multiracial faces given Asian names. This study demonstrates how socially derived expectations and stereotypes can influence face perception.



Anonymous said...

I would argue that the process is anything but logical or mathematical, but rather points to the way the mind unconsciously sorts data into culturally-influenced categories based on previous experience.

It reminds me of that pedantic book "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" by Thomas Kuhn.

miz RAND BLOWTON said...

Not in my opinion,that a Euro name makes people think your're more Euro.I go strictly on looks or plain old knowledge of the fact that many types of people in America have Caucasian Names now a days.I see many blacks with Asian names,but not Asian looks and the same for Whites that want to broaden their horizons.The guy in your picture looks like many people named Jose Castillo-like an Hispanic.But he's not pretty average Asian,nor does he look plain old White,he looks like many Latinos.He looks foreign and clueless with a European name,though.

miz RAND BLOWTON said...

Well you might correctly assume that a person with an English Name has some connection to the western world,but that doesn't mean better ,especially since many Asians outperform Whites on tests,and The People Of Indian and Russian have the most Money.The average English Guy is Poor and dumb,so if you see an English name be afraid,be very afraid.I'm not picking on folks with English names,but I think they don't always have the best opportunities,despite the fact that America is a great industrial county.But I guess Americans don't have the embarrassment of being named Ho Dong Long,and what not.I don't really know what I'm saying-I'm just mouthin' off.

miz RAND BLOWTON said...

David Smith is a boring-ass sounding name by the way - sounds totally uneventful. English guy need to spice it up like a movie star!

Dino Haramis said...

I believe that the mind tends make sense of new stimuli based on previous memories, experience, "wiring," etc.

So whereas a mixed-race face alone would likely get mixed results, a European or Asian name appended to it "tips the scales" in its own favor. A European name, for example, will conjure up notions of "White," "Western," etc. that will compel the observer to make a decision.