The Headscarf Effect: Direct Evidence from the Eyewitness Identification Paradigm



Internal and external features dominate familiar and unfamiliar face recognition, respectively. However, this finding is not universal; Egyptians showed a robust internal-feature advantage for processing unfamiliar faces (Megreya & Bindemann, 2009). This bias was speculatively attributed to their long-term experiences for individuating female faces with headscarves, which completely cover the external features. Here, we provided an empirical test for this suggestion. Participants from Egypt and UK were presented with a staged crime, which was committed by an own-race woman with or without a headscarf. All participants were then asked to identify the culprit from a line-up involving 10 faces with or without headscarves. British participants showed an advantage when the culprit left her hair uncovered. In contrast, Egyptian observers showed an advantage when the culprit wore a headscarf. This Egyptian headscarf effect was also replicated using British faces, suggesting that it reflects a specific characteristic of participant nationality rather than face nationality. These results therefore provide evidence for how culture influences cognition. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.