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Some people do look alike
Although you may be less likely to meet an exact doppelganger, some people do tend to look alike. If we learn to ignore the mathematics and facial details, the probabilities of having a doppelgänger or a look-alike become a lot higher. Assistant professor of neurobiology and behavior Michael Sheehan, explains “There is only so much genetic diversity to go around. If you shuffle that deck of cards so many times, at some point, you get the same hand dealt with you twice.”
Sheehan adds “There’s only so much variation out there. Some people will happen to look similar.” However, it’s not just about facial similarities. Sheehan says “It’s not only facial appearance but also styling, how people are presenting themselves or acting. Context has a lot to do with looking alike as well.“
Having said that, the amount of genes that decide the human appearance and the shape of our ears, nose, and lips is “incredibly voluminous.” Professor of molecular and human genetics Dr. Arthur Beaudet says “There’s a “huge number of genes that contribute to things like facial structure and, of course, hair, eye, and skin color, which are all highly variable.” So although an American and Asian might not be identical look-alike, individuals from the same race and ethnicity do share a lot of similar genes. Beaudet adds “You find two people from similar descents who probably do, in fact, have a fair amount of genetic sharing when you go way back.”
Moreover, the wide range of human appearance is not limited to only 8 facial traits. BBC’s Zaria Gorvett explains that the study conducted by Dr. Teghan Lucas was based on exact facial measurements. She writes “If your doppelganger’s ears are 59 mm but yours are 60, your likeness wouldn’t count. In any case, you probably won’t remember the last time you clocked an uncanny resemblance based on the length of someone’s ears.”
The likeliness of finding your doppelgänger also depends on exactly what you mean by the term. Statistician David Aldous of U.C. Berkeley explains “It depends whether we mean ‘lookalike to a human’ or ‘lookalike to facial recognition software’.”
Perception and reality
According to a recent study by Michael Sheehan, professor of neurobiology at Cornell University, our eyes play a crucial role in social interactions and hence we have evolved to look as physically unique and different from one another as possible. Most animals rely on their sense of smell to identify and differentiate each other, humans, however, primarily depend on sight to recognize different individuals. The researchers found that we are exceptionally good at identifying people and recognizing faces. Yet when we look at a stranger, we tend to find similarities with someone we know.
Believing you have seen a doppelganger of someone else or even yourself may also be due to your mind playing tricks on you. This is what psychologists call the perceptual experience. We tend to become familiar with certain facial features and traits of our loved ones since our childhood. Caucasians become attuned to noticing subtle differences in eye color and hair color, whereas African-Americans become accustomed to subtle shadings in skin tone.
Psychology professor Christian A. Meissner explains “It’s a product of our perceptual experience. The extent to which we spend time with, the extent to which we have close friends of another race or ethnicity.” Hence, we often believe that people from different races, especially not from our own, tend to look similar.
Face-recognition expert and behavioral and brain sciences professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, Alice O’Toole claims that she often mistakes some of her Chinese graduate students as looking similar despite being an expert in the field. She says “It’s embarrassing, really embarrassing. I think almost everyone has experienced it.”