“Modar” (Mormon radar) is an actual thing

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I’ve joked in the past about the accuracy of my “Modar”—my ability to recognize fellow Mormons at a distance based on a few facts. (See this post about meeting a Mormon government official.)  

But I never thought that Mormon Radar was anything more than an inside joke until I read this post by my friend Dan Miller, summarizing an interesting research study about Mormons’ ability to spot their peers. Dan’s graciously given me permission to run the post again here.

Dan’s the founder of the “Points with a Crew” blog and Facebook group and is the person I credit for helping my family swing a major trip to Australia on frequent flyer miles. If you’re interested in learning how to travel more of the world for free, check out his appearance on CBS Sunday Morning, explaining how he got into the “miles and points” world so he could take his wife and six kids around the country and even the world. — JKR


A guest post by Dan Miller

Many people think that they have a “radar” where they can identify groups of people just by looking at them, talking to them or observing specific characteristics. Mormons are no different – if you talk to any Mormon, chances are good that they think they can identify other Mormons.

My (anecdotal) experience with Modar

I’ve had a couple of experiences with Modar in my life that I can remember, including 3 times in a week on our recent trip to Peru.

  • When I auditioned to be on Wheel of Fortune, the first stop was a hotel in Louisville with about 100 people. I saw a young couple that looked like they might be Mormon (spoiler alert: they were). I tried to figure out how I could ask them if they were Mormon without it sounding weird :-). Finally I decided to mention that my church had a temple here in Louisville that I had been to. After I said that they were like, “Oh, are you Mormon?”
  • In Peru, we were on the train to Machu Picchu and talking with another family that seemed like they might be Mormon. The dad mentioned that his daughter that was with him had served an 18-month mission for their church in Lima. Boom – Mormon.
  • On our way up to the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu, we ran into another Mormon family. This one was almost cheating though since they were all wearing BYU shirts. They ended up taking this picture of us:

Scientific evidence for “Modar”

Okay – calling this a scientific “fact” may be stretching things and certainly my anecdotal experience in Peru and elsewhere is no sort of proof at all.

BUT, there has been a study that gives some scientific evidence of Modar. Titled On the Perception of Religious Group Membership from Faces, researchers from the University of Toronto and Tufts University did a study to determine whether such a thing as Modar existed.

The whole study is worth a read, but here are some highlights:

  • Mormons and non-Mormons who passively observed the faces of both ingroup and outgroup members showed significantly better recognition memory for individuals belonging to their ingroup than they did for individuals belonging to their outgroup, similar to ingroup memory advantage effects commonly found for age, race and gender.
  • Images of Mormon and non-Mormon men and women were obtained from online personal advertisements posted in various major cities across the United States. Search criteria were restricted to individuals 18–30 years of age who specifically indicated either active membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or membership in another non-Mormon religious organization.
  • Special attention was paid to variation in the faces so that no obvious markers of Mormon or non-Mormon identity were present. All of the targets were Caucasian.

The study concludes that Mormons and non-Mormons subtly differ in their facial appearance, and perceivers are able to perceive these differences in a way that allows for accurate categorization. The two groups are distinguished by differences in apparent health, which appears to be expressed in facial cues signaling skin quality.

Any experiences with Modar? Do you think it exists, or is it just a bunch of bunk? Leave your thoughts in the comments.


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