The Prince Philip effect

Prince Philip (from BBC News)

Prince Philip. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that he isn’t really used to people from other countries. Take a few choice quotes:

  • “Can you tell the difference between them?”, in response to President Obama explaining that he had meetings with the Chinese, the Russians and David Cameron. Perhaps we should give him the benefit of the doubt on this one, seeing as he might have been implying that they all looked like David Cameron.
  • “You are a woman, aren’t you?”, to a Kenyan woman.
  • “If you stay here much longer you’ll all be slitty-eyed”, to some British students he met on a trip to China.

Yes, I suspect that Prince Philip might have had problems completing the task set by researcher Michele Belot (Nuffield College, Oxford), who looked at whether it is harder to remember and distinguish faces from races other than your own. If this effect is strong, it could result in apparent discrimination.

Participants were shown faces of whites and East Asians, and each face was labelled with a value. In real-life, this might translate to some aspect of someone’s personality or skills that you might want to remember about them, like their profession or what they’re good at.  The values were taken away, and then participants had to try to remember which faces had the highest values.

According to the results, white participants found it easier to recall high value candidates from their own race. If this result was mirrored in real-life, say in a job selection process, this might mean that high ability applicants from ethnic minorities might be confused with low ability applicants with the same ethnic origin. So low ability candidates could benefit at the expense of high ability ones. 

The effect reversed when only one or two East Asian faces were put into the mix. Now, it was easier for participants to recall the East Asian face and the associated value: East-Asian-ness worked as a distinctive feature.

So if you are from an ethnic minority and you think you’re above average, it pays to be distinctive. Particularly if you’re meeting Prince Philip. (Or perhaps not).

The full paper is here.

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5 Responses to The Prince Philip effect

  1. John Kenny says:

    We recently published a study that tracks American’s subconscious ethnic and racial prejudices and found that while negative stereotypes persist, positive ethnic stereotypes are more common. See the full video report here:

  2. Jellybaby says:

    Poor Prince Philip…

  3. FlatEric says:

    I find it hard to tell the difference between Prince Philip and any of the other Greeks who are vastly overpaid by the state and don’t pay taxes.

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