Cross-race effect: what it is and how it affects perception

All Chinese are the same, and Blacks, Latinos, Hindus and Whites! How many times have we heard this phrase so stereotypical but, ironically, regardless of race?

This phenomenon has a name: it is the crossover effect. This is the bias we have shown to people when we see people of another race. It gives us the feeling that they are all the same, even though we are aware that in something they must be different.

This effect so shared between cultures has been studied by social psychology and an attempt has been made to understand why and how it occurs, in addition to understanding its consequences. Let’s take a closer look at what it consists of.

    What is the cross-breed effect?

    The cross effect, also called cross bias, is the tendency to recognize familiar faces more easily than unfamiliar ones, And makes a special reference when this familiarity is due to the fact that one observes the face of a person of his own race.

    The first researcher to address this phenomenon was Feingold in 1914, who observed how the average American citizen struggled to see the differences between black and Asian people. essentially he argued that we tend to see people of another race as all the same while people of the same race become, subjectively speaking, more differentiable from one another.

    Attempts have been made to explain the usefulness of this phenomenon. Social psychology has championed the idea that this effect is an in-group benefit, closely related to discerning differences in the in-group, i.e. seeing members of their own group as different in terms of personality, behavior and physique in relation to people belonging to an extraterrestrial group. (exogenous homogeneity effect).

    Research on this effect suggested that behind recognizing faces based on their race, they had two types of treatment: feature-based and entire face (holistic).

    It has been observed that holistic treatment is used more with faces of the same breed, but an effect is given by experience, as the person is so used to seeing this type of face that they quickly recognize the differences or them. distinctive features. In contrast, trait-based processing occurs with unfamiliar faces, which puts a great cognitive strain on trying to find different traits, which can be seen as simple nuances or very subtle differences.

    theoretical approaches

    Much research has attempted to understand why people of one race view members of other races as virtually identical people or with very little difference in their physical characteristics.

    in-group advantage

    It has been suggested that the crossover effect could have a strong relationship with the in-group benefit. This type of advantage occurs when members of the same group, whether ethnic, racial, cultural or any other type, they tend to value members of this group more favorably and, consequently, to judge with less benevolence those who belong to other groups (exogroup disadvantage).

    We have seen, in the field of social psychology, that the slightest aspect of a division between people induces this kind of advantages and disadvantages.

    This differentiating aspect can be something as mundane as the taste of a certain taste of ice cream, sitting in the front rows of the class at school, or being tall. The cross-race effect appears if the differentiating aspect is race, which in itself is quite striking.

      Influence on the recognition of emotions

      We have seen that people are more efficient at recognizing the emotions of people of our own race than those of the faces of other races. this it occurs in all races more or less equallyIn other words, Asians tend to view whites as all equal and with little gestural expressiveness, in the same way as whites tend to view Asians as under-expressive.

      social cognition

      Since social psychology has defended the fact that people we tend to think more categorically when we see people from other groupsIn other words, we are victims of what is called the outgroup homogeneity effect.

      This effect is what contributes to the formation of stereotypes in terms of aspects such as culture, ethnicity and, of course, race. It is for this reason that when we see people of other races, although there may be some physical differences between them, such as skin tone, nose size, eye color or hair type, we find it hard to recognize these subtle differentiating traits.

      Contact hypothesis

      It has been suggested that the crossbreeding effect is reducible, i.e. making a person of a certain race, putting white, being able to distinguish people from another, putting Asian or black .

      This could be achieved by forcing the person to maintain frequent contact with people of the race to be differentiated; through learning would be able to quickly identify physical traits that involve interindividual differences between members of that particular breed.

      That is, by being in constant contact with people, in this case Asians, it is possible to see that although there are characteristics shared by the vast majority, such as having eyes almond or fair complexion., There are other differentiable characteristics, such as nose size, hair color, tone of voice, height …

      It is thanks to this strategy that the individual will be able to observe a greater heterogeneity in people of this race.


      The cross effect it can have particularly serious consequences in the field of criminology, Especially in situations where the victim must recognize his attacker. For example, in situations where a suspect must be recognized, it is not uncommon to put them side by side while the victim or a witness tries to indicate who is responsible for the crime.

      This is particularly tricky when the offender was of a different race from the victim. The victim, biased by the effect, may see everyone on the other side of the one-way screen as equal or very similar, and may be the one blaming someone who is innocent.

      The South Korean team and the World Cup in Russia

      The 2018 World Cup was held in Russia and South Korean national team coach Taeguk Shin Tae-Yong is fed up with the Swedish team’s spies, who have tried to see the strengths and weaknesses of each player, ordered a simple but effective plan: to exchange the jerseys of the players during training, taking advantage of the fact that the Swedish spies, white and reluctant to see Asian faces, would not notice the deception. Basically, the South Korean trainer made a practical application of the cross-breed effect.

      The funny thing about it is two things. The first is that until the coach confessed his curious strategy, no one noticed the deception. Whether it was the Swedes or any other Western team, Taeguk Shin Tae-Yong knew his plan would surely go unnoticed by any white person. However, and this is where we come into the second curious fact, the strategy didn’t help him win against the Scandinavian contender, and the Sweden-South Korea game 1-0.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Quattrone, GA; Jones, EE (1980). Perception of variability within and outside groups: implications for the law of small numbers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 38 (1): 141-152. doi: 10.1037 / 0022-3514.38.1.141.
      • Behrman, Bruce W .; Davey, Sherrie L. (2001). Identification of eyewitnesses in real criminal cases: an archival analysis. Law and behavior human. 25 (5): 475–491. doi: 10.1023 / a: 1012840831846.
      • Tanaka, JW, Kiefer, M. and Bukach, CM (2003). A holistic account of the racial effect itself on facial recognition: evidence from a cross-cultural study. Elsevier
      • Feingold, California (1914). The influence of the environment on the identification of people and things. Journal of Criminal Law and Police Sciences. 5 (1): 39-51.

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