Understanding the Psychological and Neural Mechanisms through which Cross-Race Experience and Individuation Motivation Impact Face Encoding to Attenuate the Own-Race Memory Bias

Keith Byron Senholzi, University of Colorado Boulder


Perceivers are more accurate in remembering faces of their own relative to other races (own-race bias, ORB). This phenomenon is explained by reduced perceptual expertise with cross-race (CR) relative to own-race (OR) members, or alternatively, by the categorization of CR faces into racial outgroups and a resultant reduced motivation to individuate them. While CR experience and individuation motivation are shown to attenuate the behavioral ORB, their impact on neural responses to faces during memory encoding and relationship with the ORB is unknown. Two studies reported here examined the impact of these factors on event-related potential (ERP) correlates of the ORB during short-term memory encoding for CR Black and OR White faces in White participants who varied in CR experience (Study 1) and were trained to individuate CR faces or not (Study 2) after control or individuation motivation instructions (Studies 1 and 2). In Study 1, individuation motivation eliminated the ORB, whereas CR individuation training attenuated the ORB in Study 2, lending support for both the social cognitive and perceptual expertise accounts of the ORB. ERPs to CR and OR faces differed due to subsequent accuracy, CR experience, individuation motivation, and their interaction. Responses to remembered OR faces were heightened for those who received control instructions (Study 1), whereas those to remembered CR faces were heightened following individuation motivation instructions (Studies 1 and 2). Those low in prior CR experience showed smaller responses to CR than OR faces that were later forgotten (Studies 1 and 2). These findings support the conclusion that OR faces increase neural responses by default, and that category-level encoding is typical for CR faces when perceivers lack substantial CR experience. This results in heightened neural responses to CR faces during memory encoding. Race differences in ERPs and their interaction with CR experience and individuation motivation did not consistently predict the behavioral ORB. This suggests that the behavioral ORB and the early encoding of OR and CR faces during memory encoding differ as a function of individuation motivation and CR experience, but early encoding ERPs examined here may not have a one-to-one relationship with the behavioral ORB.