Valentine's (Valentine T. Q J Exp Psychol 1991;43A:161-204) face recognition framework supports both a norm-based coding (NBC) and an exemplar-only, absolute coding, model (ABC). According to NBC; (1) faces are represented in terms of deviations from a prototype or norm; (2) caricatures are effective because they exaggerate this norm deviation information; and (3) other-race faces are coded relative to the (only available) own-race norm. Therefore NBC predicts that, for European subjects, caricatures of Chinese faces made by distorting differences from the European norm would be more effective than caricatures made relative to the Chinese norm. According to ABC; (1) faces are encoded as absolute values on a set of shared dimensions with the norm playing no role in recognition; (2) caricatures are effective because they minimise exemplar density and (3) the dimensions of face-space are inappropriate for other-race faces leaving them relatively densely clustered. ABC predicts that all faces would be recognised more accurately when caricatured against their own-race norm. We tested European subjects' identification of European and Chinese faces, caricatured against both race norms. The ABC model's prediction was supported. European faces were also rated as more distinctive and recognised more easily than Chinese faces. However, the own-race recognition bias held even when the races were equated for distinctiveness which suggests that the ABC model may not provide a complete account of race effects in recognition. (C) 1998 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.