Welcome to my blog. I write about fitting in, sticking out, and missing the motherland as a serial foreigner.

Emiratis ARE better at facial recognition

(FYI, this post has nothing to do with April Fool's Day. I kind of hate this holiday. It's so hard to get a joke just right. It has to be ha-ha funny if you believe it too long, not embarrassing or offensive. And yeah, it's hard to get that right. So this is NOT an April Fool's Day post.)

In the comments for this post about my class full of black-abaya-clad women, specifically addressing the task of memorizing their names, I said, "I wonder if I was able to learn their names so fast in part because I only had their faces to rely on. If you memorize someone's name according to a hairstyle or color they're wearing, then you're back at square one if they change that thing. But if you really match a name to a face, then obviously that will stay the same."

WELL. It was with great interest that I read this recent newspaper article, that basically said exactly that: Emiratis are better at recognizing people based on their faces.

The results revealed that Emiratis generally outperformed their US counterparts [at recognizing people's faces]. They were particularly skilled at differentiating Arab faces and at spotting subtle changes in a face’s nose region.
One explanation for the observed advantage is the Emirati custom of wearing head coverings in public life.
For religious and cultural reasons, Emirati men and women tend to cover their head with the ghutra and shayla, respectively.
This life-long experience with faces framed by head coverings frequently prevents Emiratis from using external facial features, such as hairstyles, bald heads and ears, to recognise people. This lack of external facial information may be honing the Emirati ability to memorise a person’s unique internal facial appearance.

So interesting, right?

And speaking of faces and Emiratis and cultural differences: when we first moved here, I learned almost right away that a certain crown prince was considered to be THE most handsome man in the entire world, basically. There are huge posters of him around town and at first I thought, yeah, he's good-looking but nothing to write home about.

Now, several years later, I definitely see how he is considered so handsome. (There is no way to write that without seeming weird. But you know what I mean.) I think after you live in a different culture for a while, you start to see the world in their way, at least a little. And my perceptions of beauty have apparently shifted to include classical Arab considerations.

It applies to women, too - when I'm in group photos with Arab women, I cannot help but envy their dark, dramatic features. I feel like a pasty, washed-out person with no facial features compared to them. And it's not just a matter of cosmetics - I could never make my eyebrows as stunning as theirs, or get away with lashes as dark as theirs. Sigh.

So yes, people wearing head coverings all the time makes you better at facial recognition! Now we know.

Sandstormy day

March 2015 books