Saturday, December 29, 2007

What Resemblance?

During the holiday season, the inside of our (lame-o) front door gets (thankfully) covered with cards that have been sent by family and friends. Many of these cards, like the one we send out, feature pictures of the kids. We are always happy to get these kind of cards, as it is so hard (impossible) to keep up in-person with everyone we would like to. The pictures allow us to be amazed at just how big everyone has gotten (and how long it has been since we've seen you...sorry!).

These cards also inevitably lend themselves to the "looks like" game. As in, Ferenc (real Hungarian name, fictitious person) looks just like his father. Turns out, I am terrible at this game. Sure, I can see features of mom and dad in most of the pictures on the door. But is there more mom in there, or is there more dad? That's where I have no clue.

And that includes in my own family. People will say that Z looks just like me. Or that Julie is a dead ringer for Desi. But when I look the two of them, I don't see any of this. Maybe I'm just too close to them and can't abstract away like those of you who set eyes on them only periodically. This, though, doesn't explain why I'm bad at pegging the kids I see only once in a while (and maybe only once a year in two dimensions).

Here's my little theory. I think there is a subconscious phenomenon that goes on in the "looks like" game. Let's say you are on Desi's "side" of the family--one of Desi's relatives or long-time friends. According my hypothesis, you are more likely to think that Julie and Z resemble Desi, her parents, her grandparents, her aunts and uncles. In other words, you naturally highlight those features that seemingly come out of the Neidenbach lineage. My expectation holds in reverse if you are on the Balla "side" of the family.

If my hunch is right, then why do we see things this way? Perhaps we can perceive certain kinds of details better than others, due to past experiences (here, facial patterns we have seen before with our own eyes). Or perhaps we simply want to see offspring who resemble those in our family tree (and thus conjure up similarities in appearances).

I bet you some psychologist has figured this all out already...



At 7:22 PM, Blogger The Balla Family said...

OK. I did some (very) quick digging around and came up with this study (there are others) that investigates perceived family resemblances. Google "perceived resemblance and the belief in genetic relatedness" and the article I'm referring to will be the top hit. Essentially, the researchers conduct a series of experiments where they ask participants to estimate the resemblance between adult/child pairs. Sometimes participants are told that the pair is parent and offspring and sometimes they are told otherwise. Turns out that a belief in relatedness is the main predictor of perceived resemblance. I would not be surprised, after a bit more rooting around, to find research confirming the "my side-your side" perceived resemblance phenomenon as well.



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