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Rankin Williams McGugin, James Tanaka, Sophie Lebrecht, Michael Tarr, Isabel Gauthier; Race-specific perceptual discrimination improvement following short individuation training with faces. Journal of Vision 2010;10(7):622. doi: 10.1167/10.7.622.
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We explore the effect of individuation training on the acquisition of race-specific expertise with faces. The own-race-advantage (“ORA”) – superior performance for own-race faces relative to those of less familiar races – has been explained by the tendency to individuate own-race faces but to categorize faces of other races. Here we ask whether practice individuating other-race faces yields improvement in perceptual discrimination for novel faces of the trained race. We predicted that this improvement would not generalize to novel faces of another race to which participants were equally exposed in an orthogonal task that did not require individuation, yet was at least as difficult. Caucasian participants were trained to individuate faces of one race through subordinate-level naming (African American or Hispanic) and to make difficult eye luminance judgments on faces of the other race. In the latter task, participants judged which eye was of a brighter luminance, while identity and brightest eye were always orthogonal. Given these tasks we are able to rule out differences in exposure, attention and reward in producing race-specific improvements. Our results indicate that the skills acquired during individuation training generalize to novel exemplars of a category but, at least in the case of faces from two different races, they do not generalize to faces of another race experienced with equal frequency in a task that required at least as much attention. Our work demonstrates training effects that generalize to novel stimuli using a much shorter procedure (90 minutes of training, half of which was devoted to individuation) than in prior studies. The results suggest that differential effects in recognition performance could depend on differences in perceptual encoding due to differential practice with individuation. This could magnify any own-race face advantage arising from cognitive, perceptual, or social processes that promote individuation of own-race faces relative to other-race faces.
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