Can Social Categorisation Elicit Own-Group Biases in Face Recognition

Harrison, Virginia and Hole, Graham (2018). Can Social Categorisation Elicit Own-Group Biases in Face Recognition. In: British Psychological Society Cognitive Section Conference, 29-31 Aug 2018, Liverpool.


Previous research has demonstrated a number of own-group biases in face recognition. For example, people are better at recognising own-race compared to other-race faces (Meissner & Brigham, 2001); and own-age compared to other-age faces (Anastasi & Rhodes, 2012). However, exactly why these own-group biases occur is unclear.

Perceptual expertise and social-cognitive accounts have been put forward in an attempt to explain these effects. The first suggests the own-group advantage arises from the relatively increased experience (and therefore expertise) we have differentiating own-group faces; while the second suggests these effects are simply the result of categorising a face as belonging to our ‘in’ or ‘out’ group.

Two studies explored whether own-group biases can be brought about by mere categorisation at encoding. Participants were shown 40 facial images grouped according to in-/out-group status. Study One used University membership as the grouping variable; while Study Two grouped faces (and participants) according to their position on Brexit (i.e. as Leave or Remain supporters). Differences in accuracy for in- and out-group faces were investigated, alongside the influence of in-group affiliation strength. Results are discussed in terms of the perceptual expertise and social-cognitive explanations of own-group biases.

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