Tuesday, 28 February 2017

How To Identify People's Face Even If You Have Not Seen Them


If you have the misfortune to be called Herbert you might well look a little foolish, new research suggests.

People are uncannily good at matching names to strangers' faces, a study has shown.

And psychologists think it may be to do with people subconsciously altering their appearance to conform with cultural norms associated with their names.

So Herbert, a slang name for a dimwit, might not be the best choice for parents deciding what to call their son.

In a series of tests, hundreds of student volunteers in France and Israel were shown a photograph of a face and asked to select a corresponding name from a choice of four or five.

Every time, participants were significantly better at matching the name to the face than would be expected by random chance.

On between 25% and 40% of occasions they got it right. Purely on the basis of chance, they should have only been 20% - 25% accurate.

Dr Ruth Mayo, one of the researchers from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem , said: "These findings suggest that facial appearance represents social expectations of how a person with a particular name should look.

"In this way, a social tag may influence one's facial appearance. We are subject to social structuring from the minute we are born, not only by gender, ethnicity and socio-economic status but by the simple choice others make in giving us our name."

The influence of cultural stereotypes was confirmed when the volunteers were given a mix of French and Israeli faces and names.

French students outperformed random chance only when they were asked to match French names. Similarly, Israeli participants were better at matching only Hebrew names and Israeli faces.

Lead author Yonat Zwebner, also from the Hebrew University, said: "We are familiar with such a process from other stereotypes, like ethnicity and gender where sometimes the stereotypical expectations of others affect who we become.

"Prior research has shown there are cultural stereotypes attached to names, including how someone should look. For instance, people are more likely to imagine a person named Bob to have a rounder face than a person named Tim.

"We believe these stereotypes can, over time, affect people's facial appearance."

In a bizarre twist, the scientists were able to train a computer to match names to faces even more accurately than the human volunteers.

Programmed to pick names for more than 94,000 faces, the learning algorithm achieved an accuracy rate of 54% to 64%.

The research is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.



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