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Natalie Elms, Catherine Mondloch, Daphne Maurer; Jane and Ling: Holistic processing and sensitivity to the spacing of features in own- versus other-race faces. Journal of Vision 2007;7(9):9. doi: 10.1167/7.9.9.
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Adults' expert face recognition is limited to the kinds of faces they encounter on a daily basis (typically upright human faces of the same race). Adults process own-race faces holistically (i.e., as a gestalt) and are exquisitely sensitive to small differences among faces in the spacing of features. Previously we showed that adults' expertise is shaped by experience: they were 9% more accurate in seeing differences in the spacing of features in upright human than in upright monkey faces (Mondloch et al., 2006). Here we report evidence for poorer processing of spacing among features in other-race than in own-race faces, despite matching physical differences and despite evidence for robust holistic processing of other-race faces. We tested Caucasian adults (n=30) living in rural Pennsylvania who had minimal exposure to other-race faces. We created four versions of two faces (Chinese and Caucasian) that differed only in the spacing of features. Participants showed an own-race advantage when making same/different judgments (p [[lt]] .01), consistent with two recent studies that used different manipulations of spacing cues (Hayward et al., in press; Rhodes, et al., 2006). We also tested them on a composite face task (Young et al., 1987), a measure of holistic processing. Adults find it difficult to recognize that the top halves of two faces are the same when they are aligned with different bottoms; their accuracy improves when the two halves are misaligned, a manipulation that disrupts holistic processing. The size of this composite face effect did not differ with race of face (p [[gt]] .20), in contrast to the results of Michel et al. (2006). The results indicate that an other-race disadvantage for the processing of the differences among faces in the spacing of features can co-exist with holistic processing.
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