The Science Behind South Korea's Race-Based World Cup Strategy : Code Switch South Korea's men's soccer team tried to confuse scouts from Sweden's team by swapping jerseys so their opponent couldn't tell the players apart. But could a strategy like that actually work?
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The Science Behind South Korea's Race-Based World Cup Strategy

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The Science Behind South Korea's Race-Based World Cup Strategy

The Science Behind South Korea's Race-Based World Cup Strategy

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The sports behemoth known as the World Cup is underway across Russia. Sweden played South Korea today.

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UNIDENTIFIED BROADCASTER: And Sweden have their first goal of this World Cup.

KELLY: And Sweden won. That goal did it - 1-0. That's despite South Korea being especially secretive about trying to keep prying eyes from learning much about its strategy. It all started prior to the first real match when South Korea played an early friendly match against Ghana.

TYLER NGUYEN: The manager was very paranoid about Swedish scouts or any of their other opponent scouts potentially watching it. So it was played behind closed doors.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

That's sports writer Tyler Nguyen of the Stumptown Footy in Portland, Ore. He says the paranoia was justified. It turned out the Swedes admitted to spying, renting a house across the street to look at South Korea practicing.

NGUYEN: The coaches decided to instruct the players to swap jerseys to confuse them because he felt that the scouts being Westerners wouldn't be able to identify which player was which and would have to rely on the jerseys.

CORNISH: Sports writer Nguyen thinks this was a crazy strategy for South Korea to use because soccer involves defending areas of the field more than knowing what individual players are up to.

NGUYEN: I thought it was funny. I thought it made people aware of something that is not uncommon - an experience for people of Asian descents in Western countries.

ALICE O'TOOLE: Your brain and your cognitive system tune to the information that helps make individual faces unique, and so the nature of that information is simply different as a function of the race of the face.

KELLY: That is Professor Alice O'Toole of the University of Texas at Dallas. She has written a number of papers on race and facial recognition. She says it's not just Westerners who confuse Asian individuals. Every race has the same deficiency when it comes to races different than their own.

O'TOOLE: And you categorize them all as the same because they're from another group, and they all are categorized as being kind of an outgroup.

KELLY: The South Korean team coach, Shin Tae-yong, tried to capitalize on that. He admitted he ordered the jersey swapping.

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SHIN TAE-YONG: (Foreign language spoken).

CORNISH: He said, quote, "it's very difficult for Europeans to distinguish between Asians, and that's why we did that."

KELLY: Nice try South Korea. But in the end, it didn't work.

(SOUNDBITE OF IKEBE SHAKEDOWN'S "OUT OF THE SHADOWS")

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