Perceptual Influences on the Mental Representation of Face Identity and Social Category

Sean M. Hudson, University of Colorado at Boulder


Race powerfully affects perceivers’ responses to faces, promoting biases in attention, classification, and memory. To account for these diverse effects, we propose a model that integrates social cognitive work with two prominent accounts of visual processing (perceptual learning and predictive coding). Our argument is that differential experience with a racial ingroup promotes both (a) perceptual enrichment, including richer, more well-integrated visual representations of ingroup relative to outgroup faces, and (b) expectancies that ingroup faces are more normative, which influence subsequent visual processing. By allowing for “top-down” expectancy-based processes, this model accounts for both experience- and non-experiencebased influences, including motivation, context and task instructions. Fundamentally, we suggest that the psychological impact of race is largely attributable to the fact that human beings live and interact primarily with members of racial ingroups. Although race has little inherent meaning, we treat it as an important dimension because it structures our social environment, which in turn structures mental representation.