Washington, Jan 14: Scientists have shown in a new study that when it comes to recognising people, the Malaysian Chinese have adapted their facial recognition techniques to cope with living in a multicultural environment.
According to Chrystalle B.Y. Tan and her team of researchers from the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, the ability to recognise different faces may have social and evolutionary advantages.
Human faces provide vital information about a person’s identity and characteristics such as gender, age, health and attractiveness. Although we all have the same basic features we have our own distinguishing features and there is evidence that the brain has a specialised mental module dedicated to face processing.
Previous research by a group at Glasgow University in Scotland showed that Asians from mainland China use more holistic recognition techniques to recognise faces than Westerners.
Chinese focus on the centre of the face in the nose area, while westerners focus on a triangular area between the eyes and mouth, and Brit born Chinese use both techniques fixating predominantly around either the eyes and mouth, or the nose.
“The traditional view is that people recognise faces by looking in turn at each eye and then the mouth. This previous research showed us that some Asian groups actually focus on the centre of the face, in the nose area. While Westerners are learning what each separate part of the face looks like – a strategy that could be useful in populations where hair and eye colour vary dramatically, mainland Chinese use a more global strategy, using information about how the features are arranged. Meanwhile British born Chinese use a mixture of both techniques suggesting an increased familiarity with other-race faces which enhances their recognition abilities,” Chrystalle said.
The study by the School of Psychology at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus set out to investigate whether exposure and familiarity with other cultures affects our recognition accuracy and eye movement strategies.
The team used specialised eye tracking technology to investigate the visual strategies used to recognise photographs of faces. They recruited 22 Malaysian Chinese student volunteers from across Nottingham’s Malaysia campus.
The results showed that Malaysian Chinese used a unique mixed strategy by focusing on the eyes and nose more than the mouth.
“We have shown that Malaysian Chinese adopt a unique looking pattern which differed from both Westerners and mainland Chinese. This combination of Eastern and Western looking patterns proved advantageous for Malaysian Chinese to accurately recognise Chinese and Caucasian faces,” she said.
The study has been published in the scientific journal PloS One. (ANI)