The contribution of shape and surface information in the other-race face effect

Caroline MICHEL, Bruno ROSSION, Isabelle BÜLTHOFF, William G. HAYWARD, Quoc C. VUONG

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Faces from another race are generally more difficult to recognize than faces from one's own race. However, faces provide multiple cues for recognition and it remains unknown what are the relative contribution of these cues to this "other-race effect". In the current study, we used three-dimensional laser-scanned head models which allowed us to independently manipulate two prominent cues for face recognition: the facial shape morphology and the facial surface properties (texture and colour). In Experiment 1, Asian and Caucasian participants implicitly learned a set of Asian and Caucasian faces that had both shape and surface cues to facial identity. Their recognition of these encoded faces was then tested in an old/new recognition task. For these face stimuli, we found a robust other-race effect: Both groups were more accurate at recognizing own-race than other-race faces. Having established the other-race effect, in Experiment 2 we provided only shape cues for recognition and in Experiment 3 we provided only surface cues for recognition. Caucasian participants continued to show the other-race effect when only shape information was available, whereas Asian participants showed no effect. When only surface information was available, there was a weak pattern for the other-race effect in Asians. Performance was poor in this latter experiment, so this pattern needs to be interpreted with caution. Overall, these findings suggest that Asian and Caucasian participants rely differently on shape and surface cues to recognize own-race faces, and that they continue to use the same cues for other-race faces, which may be suboptimal for these faces.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1202-1223
Number of pages22
JournalVisual Cognition
Issue number9-10
Early online date21 Aug 2013
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Fund of Scientific Research (FNRS) Belgium (CM and BR), a PAI/UIAP grant no. P7/33 (Pôles d’attraction interuniversitaires, Phase 7) to BR, and a grant from the Hong Kong Research Grants Council (HKU744911) to WGH.


  • Face recognition
  • Other-race face effect
  • Shape cues
  • Surface cues


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