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Sophie Lebrecht, Lara Pierce, James Tanaka, Michael J. Tarr; Seeing beyond faces: The social significance of being an other-race expert. Journal of Vision 2008;8(6):259. doi: 10.1167/8.6.259.
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People show superior recognition memory for same-race (SR) as compared to other-race (OR) faces, an advantage termed the Other Race Effect (ORE) (Malpass & Kravitz 1969). Of course, faces carry a great deal of content beyond their identity, including both affective and social information. Using a combination of techniques, we investigated how the ORE interacts with social judgments of SR and OR faces. In this context, we consider the ORE to be an example of fine-grained perceptual expertise. That is, the differential perceptual response to SR and OR faces arises due the degree of personal exposure to these separable visual classes (Bar-Haim et al., 2006). Thus, we can ask more specifically whether perceptual experience with socially relevant stimuli modulates social processing. A two alternative force choice task measured recognition memory for SR and OR faces, revealing an own-race advantage for both African American and Caucasian subjects. This finding is supported by differences in the neural responses arising from SR as compared to OR faces. The social evaluation of SR and OR faces was assessed using an affective priming technique in which lexical decisions on positive and negative words were differentially primed depending upon the race of the face used as a prime. To further understand these biases in terms of visual expertise, we trained Caucasian subjects to expertly individuate OR faces. Along with affecting the recognition of OR faces, training interacted with social processing. This study reinforces the hypothesis that visual expertise accounts for the perceptual advantage for OR face recognition. Moreover, it suggests that the social information we extract from a face is influenced by these basic perceptual metrics. Critically, to the extent that these phenomena are malleable, we should be able to observe concurrent changes in neural structures underlying these perceptual and social mechanisms.
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