Asian Dopplegangers

For my own personal reference, I’ve posted my final term paper for my Asian Studies class below. I stayed up until 430 in the morning; only to wake up 2 hours later in order to leave for class. Then I spent my break in-between re-reading my essay and preparing my 5 minute presentation which went fairly well. All I have to say is that I’m glad that it’s all over!! Only the written final is left on Tuesday morning at 8am. I’m not looking forward to the rush hour traffic.


            There are stereotypes for just about everything in the world, today. There are stereotypes about different types of music, certain places, particular people, and even things. Most of the time, it seems as though we create these stereotypes in order to help us understand the world around us. It helps us to categorize various things quickly, but it isn’t always an accurate assessment, especially when we begin to stereotype people. Take for instance the stereotype regarding asians, and the radical statement that they all appear to look the same, and the notion that it’s sometimes difficult to tell them apart.  Although this stereotype still exists today, it exists due to influences from the media, childhood development, and the influence of cultural norms.

On an episode from the hit American television show called, The Office, the company’s regional manager goes out to lunch with several of his employees to a local Benihana’s restaurant after getting his heart broken by his girlfriend, on the day of the office’s Christmas party. After lunch and having a few drinks, Michael and Andy, the regional manager and one of his employees return from the restaurant each with an Asian Benihana waitress at their side. As the night continues on, Michael continues to drink his heartache away, but eventually loses track of which waitress is his date. As a way of finally being able to identify his date, Michael eventually marks her arm with a sharpie as soon as he’s able to illicit a response from her (Goldman). Although this scenario can often be seen as funny and humorous, the humor hides an underlying truth to the stereotype; which is: stereotypes like this exist.

Although many people would like to believe that this stereotype is only true when referencing people of oriental ethnicity, this is not the case. According to Gustave Feingold, the Assistant of the Psychology Department at Harvard University in 1914:

“[I]ndividuals of a given race are distinguishable from each other in proportion to our familiarity, to our contact with the race as a whole. Thus to the uninitiated American, all Asiatics look alike, while to the Asiatic all white men look alike.” (50)

This leads to the presumption that the less time a person spends interacting with a certain ethnicity and/or minority, the higher the likeliness people of that ethnic group will appear to look the same to him and/or her. Although the previous quote made reference to Asians, or “Asiatics”, this study also stands to be true in reference to just about any ethnicity. It can then be presumed that anyone of any ethnicity, that experiences limited to zero contact with people of other ethnic backgrounds, may find it harder to distinguish people of “the other” nationality/ethnicity.

A great example of this is noted in the British Journal of Psychology where it is stated:

“White subjects enrolled in a Black Studies course recognized Black faces more accurately than White faces, […] Galper [the conductor of the study…] suggested that the results indicate that prejudice level may be able to modify (or even eliminate) the other-race effect.” (Ferguson et al, 568)

This study relies on the idea that the more prejudices a person holds towards a certain ethnic group, the more it affects their ability to distinguish facial differences among other ethnicities, or continually referred to as “the other-race effect” . The only problem with this theory, however, is that it makes it quite difficult to accurately test the connection between prejudices and the other-race effect. This is primarily due to the fact that in scenarios “where subjects know that their racial attitudes are being assessed […] can censor [or extrapolate] their responses.” (Ferguson et al 568) This would lead to an inaccurate assessment when attempting to correlate between prejudices and the other-race effect.

It seems as though visual stimulus is something that all animals utilize as one of many methods of learning. It is also through visual stimulus that we learn to distinguish one individual from another, but everything we have analyzed up to this point has been heavily influenced by Western culture. Interestingly enough, culture also has an influence in the way we view the world around us. As a dominant culture, the United States communicates greatly through eye contact. On the other hand, many of the cultures in East Asia such as Japan, view prolonged eye contact as “rude, threatening, disrespectful and even a sign of belligerence” (Samovar et al 262). This leads to believe that the way Westerners analyze faces differently than those of different cultures.

In a study conducted by the Psychology Department at the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom, it is believed that facial recognition is not always learned and/or recognized in the same manner, cross-culturally. Through an eye-tracking exercise that analyzed the scan-paths of two different cultural groups, “Western Caucasian observers consistently fixated [on] the eye region, and partially the mouth, whereas East Asian observers fixated more on the central region of the face” (Blais 2). Although it would be easy to become ethnocentric and assume that all cultures analyze faces in the same manner that Western cultures do, it is evidently not true as Westerners have a strong tendency to look someone in the eye when analyzing them, while some other cultures may be analyzing a person’s nose more than their eyes. The idea that some East Asian cultures pay more attention to the nose, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are better or worse at distinguishing people differently, but it does show an interesting pattern by which people of different cultures evaluate faces of the same and “other-race”. Interestingly, within the same periodical, it mentions how in one experiment where observers were given a task to draw a line within a square that was identical to an example in different sized squares, Western Caucasians “were more accurate in absolute judgments, whereas  East Asian observers were more accurate in the relative task” taking a more holistic approach, as opposed to a more analytical one. Caroline Blais continues on with:

“Convergent evidence supporting cultural diversity has been found in scene perception, description and categorization […] Westerners focus[ed] analytically on salient objects and use[d] categorical rules when organizing their environment; [whereas] people from China, Korea and Japan […] focus[ed] more holistically on relationships and similarities among objects when organizing the environment.” (1)

This statement almost delivers on the potential idea that East Asian cultures are so focused on a holistic approach that it seems as though they would be less entangled with the petty differences regarding the other-race effects. This seems to be something that appears to be quite different from the Westerners’ perspective of being so analytical, along with a continual passion for categorizing things (almost meticulously) based off of salient and unimportant things. Yet somehow, along with the process of being so meticulous and analytical, it doesn’t seem to be an issue when two ethnic minorities seem almost indistinguishable between one another. Or, better yet, perhaps it matters less as more interracial relationships come to bloom with an even vaster array of multiracial children.

As we have seen, the fire that fuels this stereotype exists all around us. It’s referenced on television through humor and/or political correctness; it’s influenced by our exposure and familiarity of various ethnicities around us; and it’s also characterized by the values instilled in us by our individual cultures. Although stereotypes can often have a negative connotation attached to it, it seems as though the only way to truly rid ourselves of this kind of stereotype is to go against virtually everything that influences us from childhood to adulthood.

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