What does a typical European look like?

Ask several Europeans what a typical European looks like and they will each show you a picture of someone who looks pretty much like themselves.

This has been shown in research in which Radboud University psychologists participated. A Spaniard is a European, of course. And a Frenchman as well. But if a German has to decide who is the "typical European" out of two photos, he will choose the one who looks most like himself. And a Portuguese person will do exactly the same, according to a study conducted by German psychologist Roland Imhoff and others.

The research that Daniël Wigboldus, professor of Social Psychology at Radboud University, and Ron Dotsch (of Princeton University) worked on was recently published in the journal Psychological Science. Dotsch completed his PhD at Radboud University last January; his research was on visual stereotyping and social categorisation; Wigboldus was one of his PhD supervisors. In that research they worked with the same method that they have now further developed with researchers from Germany and Portugal.

This method involves starting with a basic picture of a face then changing random features: sometimes the eyes are darker, then a slightly more rounded jaw line, and so on. This results in hundreds of pictures that resemble each other, but differ slightly.

How German is this face?
Shown 770 pairs of photos, the German and Portuguese research subjects involved in this study had to choose from each pair the face they thought looked most European. On the basis of these choices, a picture of an average face was then created for each group, which demonstrated what each one thought a European looked like.

A second group of German and Portuguese subjects then had to decide how German or Portuguese they found these average faces to be. And the result: all subjects thought the "German European" looked more typically German (and less typically Portuguese) than the "Portuguese European."

Just like me
"European is a so-called "superordinate identity," said Daniël Wigboldus, "or rather a higher order identity, to which different subgroups belong. That you project in a figurative sense your own image onto this identity - in other words, that you consider "typical European" attributes to be those that look like you and those from your own subgroup - was already known from previous research. But that we literally project our own image onto the higher order identity, onto what it actually looks like, was shown for the first time with this study."

Source: Radboud University



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