People are much better at recognizing faces of their own race than faces of other races. This "race effect" is largely understood as being driven by perceptual expertise. People are better at recognizing own-race faces because they have more exposure to them and more practice at identifying them in comparison to other-race faces. Recently, neuroscience researchers have begun to link face perception, expertise, and recognition memory to specific regions of the brain. In this project, a series of studies will examine the hypothesis that the own-race advantage is correlated with differential neural activity in two key areas of the brain: the fusiform face area and the medial temporal lobe. It is known that responses to faces are linked to neural activation in the fusiform face area, and that recognition memory is linked to activation in the medial temporal lobe. This project will explore the extent to which own-race faces activate the fusiform face area and the medial temporal lobe in comparison to other-race faces. It is expected that other-race faces will not recruit the fusiform face area or the medial temporal lobe to the same degree as own-race faces. Additionally, this differential recruitment is expected to be correlated with sub-optimal recognition performance for other-race faces. A focus on the specific role race plays in face perception can lead to a greater general understanding of face perception and its relationship to other forms of cognitive and neuropsychological functioning. Most importantly, a focus on race will illuminate the extent to which social categories can shape and direct visual processing and memory.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Amber L. Story
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Stanford University
Palo Alto
United States
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