Study: 'Different' faces hard to remember

June 30, 2011 at 7:03 PM
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EVANSTON, Ill., June 30 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers say the human brain works differently when memorizing the face of a person from one's own race than when memorizing a face from another race.

Northwestern University said biological evidence in the form or EEG recording of brain activity sheds light on a well-documented phenomenon known as the "other-race effect," in which people are less likely to be able to remember a face from a racial group different from their own.

"Scientists have put forward numerous ideas about why people do not recognize other-race faces as well as same-race faces," Northwestern psychology professor Ken Paller said in a university release Thursday.

The discovery of a neural marker of successful encoding of faces will help put these ideas to the test, he said.

The researchers found that brain activity increases in the very first 200 to 250 milliseconds upon seeing both same-race and other-race faces.

"There appears to be a critical phase shortly after an other-race face appears that determines whether or not that face will be remembered or forgotten," researcher Heather Lucas said.

This very early phase is associated with the perceptual process of individuation that involves identifying personally unique facial features such as the shape of the eyes and nose and the spatial configuration of various facial features.

It is possible that individuation is so fragile for other-race faces because people "tend to have more frequent and extensive interactions with same-race than with other-race individuals, particularly racial majority members."

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