Friday, June 19, 2009

Why some people see "other": the Other-Race Effect

Several studies have been done to see whether babies have a preference for faces from their own racial group, and to learn why many people are better at recognizing faces from their own racial group. The following results are from
Note: I've made tiny changes, mostly in punctuation, to make the following more readable, but what follows is my edit, not my prose. Click the asterisk by each point for the original wording and context.

* Adults typically find it easier to recognize faces from their own racial group, as opposed to faces from other racial groups. This is commonly known as the other-race effect.

* The preference for own-race faces doesn’t exist at one month of age.

* The own-race face preference develops by 3 months of age.

* Babies raised with frequent exposure to people of other races don’t develop this early bias.

* One study investigated 3-, 6-, and 9-month-old Chinese infants’ ability to discriminate faces within their own racial group and within two other racial groups (African and Caucasian). The 3-month-olds demonstrated recognition in all conditions, whereas the 6-month-olds recognized Chinese faces and displayed marginal recognition for Caucasian faces but did not recognize African faces. The 9-month-olds’ recognition was limited to Chinese faces. This pattern of development is consistent with the perceptual narrowing hypothesis that our perceptual systems are shaped by experience to be optimally sensitive to stimuli most commonly encountered in one’s unique cultural environment.

* Although the face processing system appears to undergo a period of refinement during this time of life, it does not become fixed. This is attested to by the finding that Korean adults who were adopted by French families during their childhood (aged 3–9 years) demonstrated the same discrimination deficit for Korean faces shown by the native French population (Sangrigoli, Pallier, Argenti, Ventureyra, & de Schonen, 2005). This finding is highly indicative of a face representation that remains flexible throughout both infancy and childhood. Although the face representation emerges early in life based on differential experience, it appears to retain its plasticity until at least 9 years of age.

* A plausible scenario for the emergence of the ORE is as follows: Predominant exposure to faces from a single racial group leads to greater visual attention toward those faces that in turn produces superior face recognition abilities with faces from that group and poorer recognition abilities with faces from racial groups that are not frequently viewed in the visual environment.

* Over three decades of research on the cross-race effect (CRE) suggests a rather robust phenomenon that carries practical implications for cases of mistaken eyewitness identification, particularly in situations that involve a poor opportunity to encode other-race faces and when a significant amount of time occurs between observation of the perpetrator and a test of the witness’s memory. While the CRE has not generally been observed in the accuracy of descriptions for own-race vs. other-race faces, research has found that individuals often attend to facial features that are diagnostic for own-race faces and misapply these feature sets when attempting to identify and describe other-race faces. As such, theorists have proposed that encoding and representational processes are largely responsible for the CRE, including the role of interracial contact and perceptual categorization processes.

* Significant exposure to other-race faces can block the development of own-race preference.

Or, as it's put in one of the few Rodgers-Hammerstein songs that I like:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nHKzn8aHyXg&color1=0xb1b1b1&color2=0xcfcfcf&hl=en&feature=player_embedded&fs=1]