Differential Processing of Race in Familiar and Unfamiliar Faces: Implications for the Other Race Effect

Oldmeadow, J. A. (Swinburne University of Technology), Young, A. W. (University of York)

The well-known other race effect in face recognition is often interpreted amongst social psychologists as stemming from cognitive and motivational biases linked to own-group preferences. Categorising others as outgroup members leads to poorer recognition because we don’t attend to them with as much cognitive energy as for ingroup members. However, recent advances in understanding recognition of familiar and unfamiliar faces suggest an alternative explanation for the other race effect. Put simply, with unfamiliar faces we are less able to differentiate facial cues that are diagnostic of identity from cues that are not, such as expression. This could extend to cues to race, so that perceivers are less able to differentiate cues to race from other cues to identity, leading to errors of telling people of the same race apart as well as identifying a given individual across images. We report two studies that show that (a) cues to race are integrated with other cues to identity in unfamiliar face processing, and (b) this does not occur for familiar faces. The other race effect could arise, in part, from problems associated with recognition of unfamiliar faces in general, independently from cognitive and motivational processes involved in social categorisation.


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Person Perception and Stereotyping