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Race biases in face recognition Report

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Updated: Dec 5th, 2019


The objective of determining the amount of face consciousness among people from the same races and those from different races is an interesting field of study. It has been discovered that most people are not able to distinguish the difference between two people who are of different racial backgrounds from theirs.

This is even more difficult if the person encounters both groups of these people at different intervals in the society. People of the same race are also believed to have the same habits and so, it is a common occurrence when people are judged based on their perceived racial backgrounds.


Race bias in face recognition is a common issue among many people from all walks of life. For most people, it is always easy for them to identify the faces of people from their own races than from other races. The result of this has always been a misidentification which most of the times leads to incrimination of people who are innocent.

People who have never interacted with other races experience difficulties in distinguishing the difference existing between people of the same race that they do not constitute. This is different when identifying people from their own race as they are able to tell the difference.

One of the most important research questions in relation to this subject is whether the difference in visual signals is extorted from the same race, and other race facial characteristic.

According to the research carried out by Bothwell and his colleagues (1989) a conclusion was drawn that “the image processing system is less sensitive to spatial relations between features in other-race faces than in the same race faces” (20).

This conjecture is proved by the comparison of recognition capacity in faces that are upright and the ones which are inverted. The effect of face inversion is a deficiency in the roots ability and a reduction in the cognitive capacity of the observer or participant in the experiment.


The first step in this case, is to determine the sample over which the assessment will be carried out. This involves the selection of twenty people belonging to different races. A fifty – fifty difference in gender will be employed to make the outcome of the experiment more convincing and useful.

The stimuli should consist of passport photographs taken from the front. They should have the black and white shade and categorized according to gender. The person preparing this test should ensure that none of these people has unique physical characteristics such as long hair, different style of clothing or even eye glasses.

The other recommendation is that half of this population should consist of one race and the other half the other race under consideration. Visual basic software is then used to describe these images to the people participating in the experiment.

Seated at approximately one meter from the screen of the computer, the participants are requested to carefully examine the images. These are displayed randomly at an interval of about three seconds. A constraint is created such that three consecutive images should not for people from the same race.

After a specific period of just running the images on the screen, the other half of the images that had been presented are displayed before the participants. The participants are not aware that the images being displayed are different from the previous ones and so they are asked to select a yes if they are able to recognize a face and a no if they had never seen it before.

The results are rated on 7 point scale and finally the participants fill out forms describing their racial backgrounds including the racial characteristics of the community they grew up around. From the experiment, the following graph was plotted.

Race Research Graph.


Form the graph above, it was clearly identified that first, the students were able to identify the aligned faces better than the misaligned ones. The rate of acceptance was however, higher amongst people of the same race in the aligned case.

As for the misaligned faces, the rate of acceptance was lower in other races than in the individual race. The participants were able to recognize the people behind the images of the misaligned faces better when the person was from their racial background.

People who grew up in neighborhoods with different races were able to recognize the person behind the images more accurately irrespective of their racial affiliations.

This owe to the fact that they have interacted with people from many races to the extent that they can tell even in the event of the misaligned faces. Many researchers have suggested that people from different racial backgrounds have physical features and facial expressions that resemble.

The conclusion drawn from the whole experiment is that, the amalgamated effects on the faces of the sample population were experienced more with the same race image compared other race faces, and the substance of this process of mis-aligning the faces demonstrate how the relations between people of the same race are more stimuli related.

According to Yin (1968) “these findings provide direct evidence that the representations underlying the holistic facial recognition are coarsely defined, being able to accommodate two faces of a different race to a certain extent” (141).

He goes on to explain that “these representations are considered specific to the extent that the whole procedure is more significant for faces with which one has considerable visual experiences referred to as same race or SR faces” (141). Besides that this mindset scholar made an assumption that “individuals in diverse society’s records that people of other races resemble exclusively in facial characteristics” (142).

This is one of the reasons contributing to the problem of racial discrimination. The characteristics of most people are judged basing on the racial community they originate. As a result, most people have been complaining that they are being treated unfairly owing to the generalization of their racial characteristics.

Blacks in the United States for example, are believed to be hooligans and as a result of this, a large percentage of them are jailed despite them being innocent. The best example of this is the case presented by Bothwell and his colleagues.

A white woman was raped by a black man, and when this lady was given photos of the people who matched her description, she picked the wrong person. After ten years, this lady came up and revealed that all the people in the pictures resembled and so she just picked up any one of them. This is what race biases in face recognition entail. An understanding of this issue is important as it will prevent a recurrent of such cases.

According to the results obtained from this experiment, the subjects or participants seem to be more precise on the when identifying the misaligned faces compared to the aligned ones.

The interaction amongst the members of the same race, the race of the faces used as samples and the alignments showed a high level of importance as indicated by the projections.

Another conclusion assessed from these projections is that the combined effect was more pronounced in the case of the misaligned faces more than the aligned faces. Most of the participants were able to identify the images based on the top part of the face. There is no significant difference in the results obtained when the faces are aligned for the races in question.


This experiment can suggest that most people identify members of their races when their faces are aligned. Most of them could not tell the difference while observing the lower part of the faces in the misaligned faces while a majority of them were able to make appropriate judgments from the top part of the faces.

Conclusions drawn from this experiment, and many others related to it is that “other-race effect is brought about by early categorization of race at the expense of individual characteristics” (Yin, 1968). The moment an individual is perceived to belong to a particular racial background; other traits they control become irrelevant as their identity is judged from this.

Reference List

Bothwell, R.K., Brigham, J.C., & Malpass, R.S. (1989). “Cross-racial identification”. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 15, 19–25.

Yin, R. K. (1968). “Looking at upside-down faces”. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 81, 141-145.

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IvyPanda. "Race biases in face recognition." December 5, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/race-biases-in-face-recognition/.


IvyPanda. 2019. "Race biases in face recognition." December 5, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/race-biases-in-face-recognition/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Race biases in face recognition'. 5 December.

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