November 8, 2010

Nicaraguan Invasion? Blame Google Maps

An embarrassing error on Google Maps has been blamed for Nicaragua’s accidental invasion of Costa Rica. Last week, Nicaraguan troops crossed the border, took down a Costa Rican flag and defiantly raised their own flag on Costa Rican turf.

But the troops’ commander, Eden Pastora, told a Costa Rican newspaper, La Nacion, that his invasion was not his fault, because Google Maps mistakenly said the territory belonged to Nicaragua. Government officials in Nicaragua have also blamed a “bug in Google” for the error.


"They all look alike": Understanding the "other race effect"

We’ve all heard conversations, comments, and even jokes about how all the members of some race look alike. While that statement is certainly a generalization, it is true that people have a harder time distinguishing between people from a different race than they do within their own race. This phenomenon, called the “other race effect,” was first written about nearly a century ago (and supported by several subsequent studies), but researchers have made little progress on determining why, exactly, this task is so hard for people. Last week, two European psychologists published a paper in PNAS that begins to help us understand the neurophysiological basis of the other race effect.

Twenty-four subjects participated in the study; half were of East Asian descent, the other half were Western Caucasian. Each participant saw a series of two faces presented on a computer screen and had to determine whether the two faces belonged to the same person or not. The two faces were either both East Asian or both Western Caucasian, and were either the faces of two different people, or the same person’s face repeated twice. In all trials, the facial expression changed between faces to make the same face slightly harder to identify.

ars technica