Revisiting a social-cognitive explanation of own-group biases in face recognition

Harrison, Virginia; Hole, Graham and Habibi, Ruth (2014). Revisiting a social-cognitive explanation of own-group biases in face recognition. In: British Psychological Society Annual Conference, Cognitive Section, 3-5 Sep 2014, Nottingham Trent University, UK.


Previous research has found that participants are better at recognising faces of their own race compared to those of other races (see Meissner & Brigham, 2001). A similar own-group advantage can be seen with faces of different age groups (Anastasi & Rhodes, 2012). However, exactly why these own-group biases occur is unclear.

Two competing theories have been put forward. While the first suggests it is due to differential experience with own- and other- group faces, and increased perceptual expertise for own-group faces; the second demands no experiential component. In this case the bias is thought to be the bought about through the mere act of categorising a face as either an in- or out-group member (the social-cognitive account).

Based on previous work by Bernstein et al (2007), two experiments explored whether own-group biases can be brought about by this categorisation process alone. In both cases, participants were shown 40 facial images and asked to group them as either in- or out-group members at encoding. Perceptual expertise for all faces was kept constant. Participants’ recognition for those faces was then tested, and accuracy and reaction times recorded.

Results are discussed in terms of the different theories of own-group biases.

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