Biases in Face Memory

People are better at remembering faces of their social group relative to faces from other groups. The probably best known example is the so-called Own-Race Bias, the common finding that participants more accurately remember faces from their own relative to a different ethnic group (see e.g., Malpass & Kravitz, 1969; Meissner & Brigham, 2001). Interestingly, this phenomenon is not restricted to the ethnicity of faces. Similarly, people are better at remembering faces of their own age and sex relative to the respective out-group faces.

Although empirical research on some of these biases has been undertaken for more than 40 years, it is still not clear precisely what mechanisms underlie these effects. While some researchers assume that perceptual learning and varying expertise with different groups of faces drive group biases in face memory (e.g., Valentine & Endo, 1992), others suggest that categorization of faces into social in- versus out-group members and motivational factors are critical (e.g., Hugenberg et al., 2010). Our own research uses ERPs to disentangle the roles of early perceptual and later cognitive processing stages for the various group biases in face memory. Importantly, our results suggest that expertise and socio-cognitive factors affect the different biases to varying degrees. Whereas the own-race bias is substantially mediated by perceptual expertise, this does not seem to be the case for the own-gender bias.

Related Publications:

  • Neumann MF, End A, Luttmann S, Schweinberger SR, Wiese H (2015). The own-age bias in face memory is unrelated to differences in attention – Evidence from event-related potentials. Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience, 15, 180-194.
  • Wiese H, Kaufmann JM, Schweinberger SR (2014). The neural signature of the own-race bias: Evidence from event-related potentials. Cerebral Cortex, 24, 826-835.
  • Wolff N, Schweinberger SR, Wiese H (2014). What drives social in-group biases in face recognition memory? ERP evidence from the own-gender bias. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 9: 580-590.
  • Komes J, Schweinberger SR, Wiese H (2014). Preserved fine-tuning of face perception and memory: Evidence from the own-race bias in high- and low-performing older adults. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 6:60, 1-10.
  • Wiese H, Komes J, Schweinberger SR (2013). Ageing faces in ageing minds: The own-age bias in face recognition memory. Visual Cognition, 21, 1337-1363. Invited Review, Special Issue “Face recognition: Effects of race, gender, age, and species” (Editor: James W. Tanaka).
  • Wiese H, Kachel U, Schweinberger SR (2013). Holistic face processing of own- and other-age faces in young and older participants: ERP evidence from the composite face task. NeuroImage, 74, 306-317.
  • Wiese H (2013). Do neural correlates of face expertise vary with task demands? Event-related potential correlates of own- and other-race face inversion. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7:898, 1-14.
  • Wiese H, Wolff N, Steffens M, Schweinberger SR (2013). How experience shapes memory for faces: An event-related potential study on the own-age bias. Biological Psychology, 94, 369-379.
  • Wiese H, Komes J, Schweinberger SR (2012). Daily-life contact affects the own-age bias and neural correlates of face memory in elderly participants. Neuropsychologia, 50, 3496-3508.
  • Wolff N, Wiese H, Schweinberger SR (2012). Face recognition memory across the adult lifespan: ERP evidence from the own-age bias. Psychology and Aging, 27, 1066-1081.
  • Wiese H (2012). The role of age and ethnic group in face recognition memory: ERP evidence from a combined own-age and own-race bias study. Biological Psychology, 89, 137-147.
  • Stahl J, Wiese H, Schweinberger SR (2010). Learning task affects ERP correlates of the own-race bias, but not recognition memory performance. Neuropsychologia, 48, 2027-2040.
  • Wiese H, Stahl J, Schweinberger SR (2009). Configural processing of other-race faces is delayed but not decreased. Biological Psychology, 81, 103-109.
  • Wiese H, Schweinberger SR, Hansen K (2008). The age of the beholder: ERP evidence of an own-age bias in face memory. Neuropsychologia, 46, 2973-2985.
  • Stahl J, Wiese H, Schweinberger SR (2008). Expertise and own-race bias in face processing: An event-related potential study. NeuroReport, 19, 583-587.
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