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Kristin Shutts, Katherine D. Kinzler, Elizabeth S. Spelke; An ambiguous-race illusion in children's face memory. Journal of Vision 2006;6(6):286. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/6.6.286.
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Previous research has shown that infants, children, and adults are better at recognizing own-race than other-race faces (e.g. Sangrigoli & de Schonen, 2004; Pezdek et al., 2003; Meissner & Brigham, 2001). Moreover, adults show a cross-race recognition deficit when tested with sets of ambiguous-race faces that differ only in the presence or absence of an extraneous marker (hairstyle) of racial category (MacLin & Malpass, 2003). This “ambiguous-race illusion” provides evidence that face memory is not driven solely by perceptual expertise, but rather is also susceptible to higher-level processes of categorization. The goal of the present study was to investigate whether the ambiguous-race illusion obtains in young children. We presented children aged 2 to 5 years raised in predominantly White environments with a set of computer-generated White-Black morphs. During the experiment, each morph face was paired with either the White or Black face that contributed to the morph, and were told that the two faces were siblings. When tested for their memory of the morph faces, children were better at recognizing faces that had been previously introduced with their White sibling than faces that had been previously introduced with their Black sibling (t(50) = 2.30, p <.05), providing evidence that children's memory for perceptually identical faces is modulated by the racial context in which faces are presented. This suggests that an early own-race face memory advantage is not driven exclusively by perceptual familiarity. In-progress research is exploring this effect further with both children and adults.
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