Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Psychology & Neuroscience
Leaf Van Boven
White perceivers usually recognize the faces of other Whites more accurately than the faces of other races --- a difference which is called the Cross-Race Effect (CRE) in recognition memory. In most of this research, perceivers are shown faces that have neutral emotional expressions. Some past research had shown improved memory for outgroup faces when the faces have angry (Ackerman et al. 2006; Krumhuber & Manstead, 2011; Young & Hugenberg, 2012), fearful (Krumhuber & Manstead, 2011), or happy expressions (Corneille, Hugenberg, & Potter, 2007). However, the participants have been pre-dominantly White, so one cannot be sure that emotional expressions affect all perceiver races the same way.
Four experiments are reported here. White participants (Experiments 1 & 3) and Black participants (Experiments 2 & 4) memorized White and Black faces, and they were given a recognition test later. These faces varied in their emotional expression, both during encoding and at test. Experiments 1 and 2 used neutral and angry faces, while Experiments 3 and 4 used neutral and happy faces.
All four experiments showed a pro-ingroup CRE, where White participants remembered White faces better than Black faces, and Black participants remembered Black faces better than White faces. However, somewhat contrary to prior research, we found that both participant races had relatively more difficulty recognizing angry Black faces, such that when the faces were angry at encoding, the CRE was strengthened for White participants and weakened for Black participants. Similarly, both participant races found it relatively easier to recognize happy White faces, such that when the faces were happy at test, the CRE was strengthened for White participants and weakened for Black participants.
We discuss stereotype congruency as a possible explanation for the effects of angry emotional expressions. Since Blacks are stereotyped as angry, an angry Black face may call more attention to their racial category, drawing attention away from individuating features. Likewise, it appears that happy emotional expressions increase recognition specifically for White faces, although we can only speculate as to the exact cause of this effect.
Gwinn, Jason, "They Still All Look Alike to Me: The Role of Facial Emotional Expressions in the Cross-Race Effect" (2014). Psychology and Neuroscience Graduate Theses & Dissertations. 65.