Adults recognize own-race faces more accurately than other-race faces, according to the findings of researchers’ experiments over the years. In fact, researchers have given this phenomenon a name: “own-race recognition advantage” (ORA).But these experiments were based on participants looking at individual headshots of a variety of faces and being asked to identify, at a later time, the ones that they saw.In a new study, Brock PhD student Thalia Semplonius and psychologist Catherine Mondloch set out to determine if peoples’ perception of same- and other-race faces would change if the experiments were based on groups of faces rather than single-face headshots.“I was reading through all this literature and I thought, OK, we have this phenomenon, but why are we studying it in this way?” says Semplonius. “It doesn’t emulate how we see faces in real life.”The study – “Attentional biases and recognition accuracy: What happens when multiple own- and other-race faces are encountered simultaneously?” – was published January 23 in the online journal Perception.http://www.perceptionweb.com/perception/fulltext/pforth/p7892.pdfThe Brock researchers conducted two experiments. In the first, the research subjects – Caucasian students who had minimal interactions with people from Asia – looked at a picture of Caucasian and Asian faces interspersed among random objects such as tacks, pens, a battery and a ring.In the second experiment, Caucasian and Asian faces were grafted onto bodies walking and standing in a busy street scene. “So, rather than seeing one face at a time during the study, you’re seeing multiple faces in a naturalistic environment,” explains Semplonius.“What was really novel was that this was the first time that somebody has said, let’s put these faces on bodies in a scene and record where people look,” says Mondloch.In the second experiment, the researchers also measured the participants’ eye movements with an eye tracker. They were then asked to recall the faces that they had seen.The researchers found that participants looked longer at own-race than other-race faces, “perhaps because they were seen as in-group members,” says Mondloch. They also remembered them more accurately.However, although there were variations in the amount of time participants looked at the faces, the grouping and presentation of those faces made no difference in participants’ accuracy in recalling same- and other-race faces.“Our prediction was that when you put faces in competition with each other, this advantage with own-race faces would increase dramatically and it didn’t,” says Mondloch. “That was surprising; it’s not just about where we look. Rather, there are key differences in how we process own versus other race faces.”Mondloch identifies two basic reasons why people tend to recognize faces of their own race more accurately. The first is “we’ve had much more visual experience with own-race faces, so our brain has ways of decoding them and representing them that’s very efficient for the category of faces with which we’re most experienced.”Secondly, “it’s about social categories,” says Mondloch. “When we see somebody from an ‘outgroup’ – a different age or race – we would simply process them at the categorical level. When we see somebody from an ‘ingroup’ we process them at the individual level.”Semplonius says the Brock study – and own-race recognition advantage research in general – has implications for people giving eyewitness testimonies or for social interactions, such as shopkeepers trying to recognize their customers.“The research shows we might not actually be as good as we think we are at recognizing faces of unfamiliar people, which is obviously important to take into account during these testimonials and other situations,” says Semplonius.Mondloch says she and her colleagues are now doing research with Asian international exchange students to study any changes they may have in processing Caucasian faces over a four-year period of studying at Brock University.