November 6, 2013, by khyx2lyn

Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) – How do people describe faces?

Continuing from last week’s blog post on the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition, here is Lee Ai-Suan’s talk titled “Black hair, brown eyes: How do people describe faces?”

Look at the person next to you. How would you describe his or her face?

Research has shown that people from different cultures process information in different ways. For example, East Asians tend to focus on the relationship of objects, while Western Caucasians tend to focus on salient objects in a scene.

Research has shown that people who can speak two languages provide different responses when carrying out tasks in the two languages. Thus it is thought that people think and behave differently when speaking in different languages.

But, not much is known about how people describe faces when they are speaking different languages, and my research aims to bridge this gap of knowledge. Why is this important? The quality of facial descriptions, and the factors behind it, could have important implications for extracting the right information for eyewitness testimony.

I am investigating whether using language to trigger a cultural mind set can influence how people describe faces, for example, which features they describe more, and what type of descriptions they provide. I am also comparing whether Malaysian Chinese participants use similar or different strategies for looking and describing faces.

We recruited Malaysian Chinese participants who were fluent in both Mandarin and English for our experiment, which consisted of two parts: one in English and the other in Mandarin. For each language, they described a series of faces.

So far, we have found that Malaysian Chinese participants use different strategies for looking at and describing faces. They looked at the eye and nose regions most frequently, but described the hair and eye regions the most. This suggests that people describe what is easy to describe with language, rather than what is useful for identifying faces.

This finding suggests that the identification of faces based on descriptions may be improved by training people to focus their descriptions on useful areas for identifying faces, rather than areas that are easy to describe. In turn, this could potentially be beneficial to the police when finding evidence.


Lee Ai-Suan
(PhD Student, School of Psychology, UNMC)

Posted in blogdata collectionintroductionnewspostgraduatepsychobabblepsychologyresearchstudent lifeunmcvision