Collaborative Research: Effects of cross-race contact on perceptual expertise, expectancies, and individuated face processing

Project: Research project

Project Details


Most people know from their own experience that it is harder to recognize someone of a different race than it is to recognize someone who belongs to one's own racial group. We call this phenomenon the cross-race recognition deficit (or CRD). The CRD is a robust effect which has been studied all over the world. It influences both White people trying to remember Black faces, but also Black people trying to remember White faces, and both groups trying to remember Asian faces. The team will investigate two psychological processes that may contribute to the CRD. First, people may fail to pick up on useful information in cross-race faces because they are untrained at finding the right kinds of information in those faces. Second, people may harbor an expectation that faces, in general, should look like faces from their own racial group, leading them to see cross-race faces as inherently foreign. In addition, the team will examine natural variation in cross-race contact which may underlie CRD, and will implement focused training with cross-race faces which will be delivered online or through a smartphone application. In this study, the team hopes to (a) shed light on a robust, important phenomenon that affects how people see one another, (b) examine a strategy to improve cross-race recognition, and (c) introduce improved tools (like a smartphone app) and measures that will be available for free to scientists and lay people alike.

In this set of studies, the researchers will examine (a) the CRD, (b) the relationship between the CRD and the extent of an individual's contact or experience with members of other racial groups, as well as (c) the cognitive operations that give rise to both the CRD and its relationship to contact. The work will leverage two prominent theories of visual processing – perceptual learning and predictive coding – to make predictions about the CRD, a phenomenon with far-reaching social psychological and societal consequences. Aim 1 of this proposal tests a theoretical model (Correll, Hudson, Guillermo, & Earls, 2016) which argues that the relationship between cross-race contact and the CRD is mediated by changes in (a) perceptual learning, which allows the perceiver to more efficaciously encode individuating information from the kinds of faces that a perceiver typically encounters; and (b) expectancies about what a face should look like, which again reflect the perceiver's social experience. In Aim 2, the team turns to the question of how the CRD impacts generalization from one face to another. For example, if a participant learns that one member of a group is friendly (or unfriendly), does that information generalize to other members of the group? Robust theoretical arguments contend that similarity between stimuli should promote generalization, and the CRD – at its heart – reflects the perception of similarity among cross-race faces. The scientific impacts of this work are numerous: It will integrate vision science and social psychology, and explore an unusual method for reducing prejudice and stereotyping. Furthermore, the team will develop a free face-training smartphone application that will be available for researchers to use. The broader impacts of the work are also wide ranging: The CRD has many consequences outside the laboratory (e.g., eye-witness testimony, interpersonal interactions), and this project will investigate ways to reduce CRD. The team will develop and validate a free app that will be available to lay people who want to practice cross-race face recognition. In addition, given a diverse group of undergraduate research assistants at both institutions, this work will expose under-represented populations to the type of science from which these groups are often excluded.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date7/1/206/30/23


  • National Science Foundation: $134,869.00


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.