Cognitive psychologists at the University of Exeter believe they have discovered the answer!Outline of people

Decades of debate since the 1960s resulted in social scientists taking the view that people, particularly those with more prejudiced racial attitudes, are less motivated to engage and differentiate members of other races, thus leading to a weaker memory for them.

This indicated a social bias.

Cognitive scientists, on the other hand, believe that the difficulty is based on the lack of visual experience and expertise that people have with other-race faces.

“For many years, we have debated the underpinning causes of OFE (other-race-effect),” said Dr. Ciro Civile, senior lecturer in cognitive psychology and research lead for the University of Exeter project.

This research shows that when you systematically impair a person’s perceptual expertise through the application of brain stimulation, their ability to recognize faces is broadly consistent regardless of the ethnicity of that face.

Published in the journal Scientific Reports, the research was conducted at Exeter’s Washington Singer Laboratories, and used a non-invasive transcraniaL direct current stimulation (tDCS) procedure, specifically formulated to impair a person’s ability to recognize upright faces. This was applied to nearly 100 White European students’ dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, via a pair of sponges attached to their scalp.

The face recognition task involved upright and inverted Western Caucasian and East Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) faces and was applied to a control group and the test group.  The results revealed that in the control group, the size of the FIE for own-race faces was almost three times larger than the one found for other-race faces confirming the robust ORE.

In the group subject to active tDCS, meanwhile, the stimulation successfully removed the perceptual expertise component for upright own-race faces and resulted in no difference being found between the size of the FIE for own versus other-race faces.

And when it came to recognizing faces that had been inverted, the results were roughly equal for both groups for both races, supporting the fact that people have no expertise whatsoever at seeing faces presented upside down.

“Establishing that the other-race effect, as indexed by the face inversion effect, is due to expertise rather than racial prejudice will help future researchers to refine what cognitive measures should and should not be used to investigate important social issues,” said Ian McLaren, professor of cognitive psychology.

“Our procedure can now be used to test all those situations where the debate regarding a specific phenomenon involves perceptual expertise.”

Author: Press Office
Source: University of Exeter

July 31, 2022