An Investigation of the Role of Attention in the Cross-Race Effect: An Ecological Approach
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The current set of studies was conducted to examine the cross-race effect (CRE), a phenomenon commonly found in the face perception literature. The CRE is evident when participants display better own-race face recognition accuracy than other-race recognition accuracy (e.g. Ackerman et al., 2006). Typically the cross-race effect is attributed to perceptual expertise, (i.e., other-race faces are processed less holistically; Michel, Rossion, Han, Chung & Caldara, 2006), and the social cognitive model (i.e., other-race faces are processed at the categorical level by virtue of being an out-group member; Hugenberg, Young, Bernstein, & Sacco, 2010). These effects may be mediated by differential attention. I investigated whether other-race faces are disregarded and, consequently, not remembered as accurately as own-race (in-group) faces. In Experiment 1, I examined how the magnitude of the CRE differed when participants learned individual faces sequentially versus when they learned multiple faces simultaneously in arrays comprising faces and objects. I also examined how the CRE differed when participants recognized individual faces presented sequentially versus in arrays of eight faces. Participants’ recognition accuracy was better for own-race faces than other-race faces regardless of familiarization method. However, the difference between own- and other-race accuracy was larger when faces were familiarized sequentially in comparison to familiarization with arrays. Participants’ response patterns during testing differed depending on the combination of familiarization and testing method. Participants had more false alarms for other-race faces than own-race faces if they learned faces sequentially (regardless of testing strategy); if participants learned faces in arrays, they had more false alarms for other-race faces than own-races faces if ii i they were tested with sequentially presented faces. These results are consistent with the perceptual expertise model in that participants were better able to use the full two seconds in the sequential task for own-race faces, but not for other-race faces. The purpose of Experiment 2 was to examine participants’ attentional allocation in complex scenes. Participants were shown scenes comprising people in real places, but the head stimuli used in Experiment 1 were superimposed onto the bodies in each scene. Using a Tobii eyetracker, participants’ looking time for both own- and other-race faces was evaluated to determine whether participants looked longer at own-race faces and whether individual differences in looking time correlated with individual differences in recognition accuracy. The results of this experiment demonstrated that although own-race faces were preferentially attended to in comparison to other-race faces, individual differences in looking time biases towards own-race faces did not correlate with individual differences in own-race recognition advantages. These results are also consistent with perceptual expertise, as it seems that the role of attentional biases towards own-race faces is independent of the cognitive processing that occurs for own-race faces. All together, these results have implications for face perception tasks that are performed in the lab, how accurate people may be when remembering faces in the real world, and the accuracy and patterns of errors in eyewitness testimony.