Other-race faces : limitations of expert face recognition /
Elms, Natalie M.
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Adults' expert face recognition is limited to the kinds of faces they encounter on a daily basis (typically upright human faces of the same race). Adults process own-race faces holistically (Le., as a gestalt) and are exquisitely sensitive to small differences among faces in the spacing of features, the shape of individual features and the outline or contour of the face (Maurer, Le Grand, & Mondloch, 2002), however this expertise does not seem to extend to faces from other races. The goal of the current study was to investigate the extent to which the mechanisms that underlie expert face processing of own-race faces extend to other-race faces. Participants from rural Pennsylvania that had minimal exposure to other-race faces were tested on a battery of tasks. They were tested on a memory task, two measures of holistic processing (the composite task and the part/whole task), two measures of spatial and featural processing (the JanelLing task and the scrambledlblurred faces task) and a test of contour processing (JanelLing task) for both own-and other-race faces. No study to date has tested the same participants on all of these tasks. Participants had minimal experience with other-race faces; they had no Chinese family members, friends or had ever traveled to an Asian country. Results from the memory task did not reveal an other-race effect. In the present study, participants also demonstrated holistic processing of both own- and other-race faces on both the composite task and the part/whole task. These findings contradict previous findings that Caucasian adults process own-race faces more holistically than other-race faces. However participants did demonstrate an own-race advantage for processing the spacing among features, consistent with two recent studies that used different manipulations of spacing cues (Hayward et al. 2007; Rhodes et al. 2006). They also demonstrated an other-race effect for the processing of individual features for the Jane/Ling task (a direct measure of featural processing) consistent with previous findings (Rhodes, Hayward, & Winkler, 2006), but not for the scrambled faces task (an indirect measure offeatural processing). There was no own-race advantage for contour processing. Thus, these results lead to the conclusion that individuals may show less sensitivity to the appearance of individual features and the spacing among them in other-race faces, despite processing other-race faces holistically.