September 2021
Volume 21, Issue 9
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   September 2021
Racial ambiguity impairs holistic face processing
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Linlin Yan
    Zhejiang Sci-Tech University, Hangzhou, P. R. China
  • Yuhao Tang
    Zhejiang Sci-Tech University, Hangzhou, P. R. China
  • Sara Cherry
    University of Hong Kong
  • Saiwei Song
    Zhejiang Sci-Tech University, Hangzhou, P. R. China
  • Zhe Wang
    Zhejiang Sci-Tech University, Hangzhou, P. R. China
  • Yu-Hao P. Sun
    Zhejiang Sci-Tech University, Hangzhou, P. R. China
  • Kang Lee
    University of Toronto
  • Janet H. Hsiao
    University of Hong Kong
  • Naiqi G. Xiao
    McMaster University
  • Footnotes
    Acknowledgements  This research was supported by the Funds 2019Q075, 201810338006, 2019R406048.
Journal of Vision September 2021, Vol.21, 1934. doi:
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      Linlin Yan, Yuhao Tang, Sara Cherry, Saiwei Song, Zhe Wang, Yu-Hao P. Sun, Kang Lee, Janet H. Hsiao, Naiqi G. Xiao; Racial ambiguity impairs holistic face processing. Journal of Vision 2021;21(9):1934.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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Face experience has been regarded as a crucial factor that drives the formation of holistic face processing, a hallmark of perceptual expertise. While early work supported this hypothesis by showing stronger holistic face processing in own-race faces than that in other-race faces, more recent studies failed to replicate this observation. This discrepancy challenges the nature of holistic processing: Is it really shaped by experience? To address this question, we examined holistic face processing with novel racially ambiguous faces, created by morphing Asian and Caucasian faces. We also examined holistic processing with unambiguous Asian and Caucasian faces. In each trial, Asian adult participants (N = 28), who had limited experience with Caucasian people, first saw a face image, which is followed by a composite face. They need to decide whether the top half of the composite face was the same person as the first face. The results showed a significant composite effect (misaligned – aligned) for Asian and Caucasian faces, but not for the Asian-Caucasian morphed faces. We replicated this finding in Experiment 2, which also included eye movement measures (N = 36). These findings suggest that the racially ambiguous faces impair holistic processing, which is consistently found in unambiguous faces. To examine whether this finding was caused by the lack of experience with the ambiguous faces, we introduced a brief exposure of morphed faces in Experiment 3 (N = 40). The brief exposure led to significant holistic processing of morphed faces, as compared to a non-exposure condition. In sum, we reported a robust impairment of holistic processing by racially ambiguous faces. Moreover, we reinstated holistic processing with a brief perceptual experience of this novel type of face. These findings support the crucial role of perceptual experience in the formation of holistic face processing.


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