Recognizing Own- and Other-race Faces: Cognitive Mechanisms Underlying the Other-Race Effect
Other-race faces are discriminated and recognized less accurately than own-race faces. The other-race effect (ORE) emerges during infancy and is robust across different participant populations and a variety of methodologies (Meissner & Brigham, 2001). Decades of research has been successful in characterizing the roots of the ORE, however certain aspects regarding the nature of own- and other-race face representations remain unspecified. The present dissertation attempts to find the commonalities and differences in the processing of own- vs. other-race faces so as to develop an integrative understanding of the ORE in face recognition. In Study 1, I demonstrated that the ORE is attributable to an impaired ability to recognize other-race faces despite variability in appearance. In Study 2, I further examined whether this ability is influenced by familiarity. The ORE disappears for familiar faces, suggesting a fundamental difference in the familiar and unfamiliar other-race face recognition. Study 3 was designed to directly test whether the ORE is attributable to a less refined representation of other-race faces in face space. Adults are more sensitive to deviations from normality in own- than other-race faces, and between-rater variability in attractiveness rating of individual faces is higher for other- than own-race faces. In Study 4, I investigated whether the ORE is driven by the different use of shape and texture cues. Despite an overall ORE, the transition from idiosyncratic shape to texture cues was comparable for own- and other-race faces, suggesting that the different utilization of shape and texture cues does not contribute to the ORE. In Study 5, applying a novel continuous-response paradigm, I investigated how the representations of own- and other-race face are stored in visual working memory (VWM). Following ample encoding time, the ORE is attributable to differences in the probability of a face being maintained in VWM. Reducing encoding time caused a loss of precision of VWM for other- but not own-race faces. Collectively, the results of this dissertation help elucidate the nature of representations of own- and other-race faces and clarify the role of perceptual experience in shaping our ability to recognize own- and other-race faces.