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Caroline Michel, Roberto Caldara, Bruno Rossion; Same-race faces are perceived more holistically than other-race faces. Journal of Vision 2004;4(8):425. doi: 10.1167/4.8.425.
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It is well known that same-race faces are better recognized than other-race faces, a phenomenon often reported in the literature as the other-race face effect (e.g. for a review Meissner & Brigham, 2001). However, the theoretical explanation of this effect is still debated. It has been suggested that it could be the result of a reduced ability to encode configural information on other-race faces (Rhodes et al., 1989). Here we adapted a paradigm developed by Tanaka and Farah (1993), in which it was shown that facial features are recognized better when presented in whole faces than isolated. This whole/part advantage has been taken as evidence that faces are processed holistically, a type of configural processing (Maurer et al., 2002). Subjects performed a delayed matching task in which a face was first presented for 500 ms, followed by two simultaneously presented faces or two isolated face features. The task was to match one of the items to the first one, the distractor being different from the target by only one feature. We tested 20 Caucasian and 20 Asian subjects who demonstrated an other-race effect as measured in an old/new recognition task. The three-way interaction between race of subjects, face race and condition (whole faces or isolated features) was significant. Caucasian subjects showed a larger whole/part advantage for their own-race faces than for other-race faces, but Asian subjects showed an equally large whole/part advantage for both race of faces. These results suggest that we process same-race faces more holistically than other-race faces. This effect may be related to visual experience, since our Asian subjects had been living among Caucasian faces for about a year on average. Interestingly, there was no correlation between the magnitude of the other-race effect and the holistic processing for other-race faces, suggesting that the other-race effect may not be related to a differential holistic processing between same-race and other-race faces.
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