When Aaron first started working here in Singapore, he often heard the same phrase from the locals in his office: "All you Americans look alike. I cannot tell you apart."
One of the guy's children even confused my tall, skinny husband with dark brown hair with his short, chubby coworker with light brown hair.
It was so weird to us. Then again, we could not tell any of the locals apart from each other either. They all had black hair, smaller bone structure and slanted brown eyes (except for the Indian-Singaporeans).
I experienced the same situation when I showed up to work for the first time in Singapore. My Chinese-Singaporean boss was going over everyone's name in the office and I got stuck on one person.
I asked her "Is that the blonde?"
My boss got a really confused look on her face and said "I have no idea. I don't pay attention to that."
I was so baffled by this. How do you not notice the color of someone's hair? It's one of the first things I notice about someone right along with their eyes.
Well almost two years later, I finally have my answer. A new study published in ScienceDaily found that Caucasians and Asians assess and recognize faces in a totally different way. They also explained a little bit as to why we have trouble telling people from the other race apart.
"Caucasian and Asian subjects excelled at recognizing someone of their race, yet both had the same level of difficulty in identifying someone of another ethnic group. According to Blais, this says more about the analytical approach of Caucasians and the holistic approach of Asians." -University of Montreal (2010, January 27). Caucasians and Asians don't examine faces in the same way. ScienceDaily.
According to ScienceDaily, Asians study faces as an overall picture and Caucasians tend to break down the face into specific parts.
Specifically, Caucasians tend to focus on the triangle of the eyes, nose and mouth. Asians just focus on the nose and observe the whole face at once.
I found this crazy interesting. It totally made sense of the conversations we'd had with Singaporeans here. I'm sure the facial structure recognition also goes along with the fact that they don't notice hair color, eye color and so on.
I did later ask my previous boss what features she notices about people when she first meets them. She told me that she more often notices face shape and body type. At the time, I thought she was just weird.
Now I realize that I just grew up in a place where different things matter (i.e. hair color) in aiding our recognition.
In a place like Singapore, where the majority of the population is from surrounding Asian countries, those same things don't help at all. Everyone has dark brown or black hair (naturally, at least) and dark brown eyes. So they've grown up learning to recognize completely different things to tell their friends apart.
This is such an "Aha!" moment for me that I feel really slow for not putting this all together until now.
It's interesting though, right?
2016 WY/MT Trip
7 months ago