On the other side of the fence: Effects of social categorization and spatial grouping on memory and attention for own-race and other-race faces

Nadine Kloth, S.E. Shields, Gillian Rhodes

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13 Citations (Scopus)
174 Downloads (Pure)


The term "own-race bias" refers to the phenomenon that humans are typically better at recognizing faces from their own than a different race. The perceptual expertise account assumes that our face perception system has adapted to the faces we are typically exposed to, equipping it poorly for the processing of other-race faces. Sociocognitive theories assume that other-race faces are initially categorized as out-group, decreasing motivation to individuate them. Supporting sociocognitive accounts, a recent study has reported improved recognition for other-race faces when these were categorized as belonging to the participants' in-group on a second social dimension, i.e., their university affiliation. Faces were studied in groups, containing both own-race and other-race faces, half of each labeled as in-group and out-group, respectively. When study faces were spatially grouped by race, participants showed a clear own-race bias. When faces were grouped by university affiliation, recognition of other-race faces from the social in-group was indistinguishable from own-race face recognition. The present study aimed at extending this singular finding to other races of faces and participants. Forty Asian and 40 European Australian participants studied Asian and European faces for a recognition test. Faces were presented in groups, containing an equal number of own-university and other-university Asian and European faces. Between participants, faces were grouped either according to race or university affiliation. Eye tracking was used to study the distribution of spatial attention to individual faces in the display. The race of the study faces significantly affected participants' memory, with better recognition of own-race than other-race faces. However, memory was unaffected by the university affiliation of the faces and by the criterion for their spatial grouping on the display. Eye tracking revealed strong looking biases towards both own-race and own-university faces. Results are discussed in light of the theoretical accounts of the own-race bias. © 2014 Kloth et al.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere105979
Number of pages10
JournalPLoS One
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2 Sep 2014


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