A wealth of research over the last 30 years has shown that identifications by witnesses belonging to a different race than the individual being observed are less reliable than same-race identifications. The phenomenon has been termed the “own-race bias,” as well as the “cross-racial effect.” It is not a function of prejudice, and does not depend on a belief by the witness that members of a particular race “all look alike” — or even look more or less similar than members of one’s own race. Rather, it is a perceptual phenomenon that appears to apply to members of all races, which social scientists have known for decades.
Below is a bibliography of research on the topic, dating all the way back to 1978 when John Brigham and P. Barkowitz conducted a study that revealed that members of different races were less accurate when attempting to identify individuals of other races.
Bibliography of research:
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Brigham, J. C. (1978). The effect of race, sex, experience and attitude on the ability to recognize faces. Do “they all look alike?”. Journal of Applied Social Psychology., 8, 306-318.
Brigham, J. C., Bennett, L. B., Meissner, C. A., & Mitchell, T. L. (in press). The influence of race on eyewitness memory. In R. C. L. Lindsay, D. F. Ross, J. D. Read, & M. P. Toglia (Eds.), Handbook of eyewitness psychology. Volume II: Memory for people (pp. 257-281). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Brigham, J. C. (in press). The role of race and racial prejudice in recognizing other people. Nebraska Symposium on Motivation, 2005 (Vol 53). New York: Springer.
Brigham, J. C. (1978). Do “They all look alike?” The effects of race, sex, experience, and attitude on the ability to recognize faces. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 8, 306-318.
Brigham, J. C. (1979). Cross-racial recognition and age: When you’re over 60, do they still “all look alike?”. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 5, 218-222.
Brigham, J. C., & Malpass, R.S. (1985). The role of experience and contact in the recognition of faces of own- and other-races persons. Journal of Social Issues, 41, 139-155.
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