The ‘Other Race Effect’ (ORE) is a recognised phenomenon among infants from various racial groups, whereby they lose their ability to distinguish the faces of people from different races to their own, due to a lack of exposure. This ability is typically present at six months, but is lost by the age of nine months, leading to a compromised perception of people outside of their own ethnic group.
Lead researcher, Dr Jane Herbert, explained: “Shortly after we are born, we can tell which faces we have seen before, regardless of whether they are from our race or even our species. During the infancy period, the face processing system becomes ‘tuned’ to the type of faces that we see regularly. So if you grow up in an environment where you only experience a particular type of face (e.g., just Caucasian, just Asian, just African) then your brain begins to specialise in this type of face.
“The ORE is assumed to be a consequence of experience with faces from unique ethnic groups in our environment. That is, experience with one’s own ethnic group results in expertise in identifying individuals within that group. In contrast, a lack of experience with individuals outside our own ethnic group results in relatively poor discrimination and recognition abilities for these faces.”
Dr Herbert’s team found that by giving infants books with photographs of faces of people from different races to their own, the infants did not develop the ORE. The researchers used perceptual training via picture books for a total of one hour between 6 and 9 months and found that Caucasian infants maintained the ability to distinguish between different Chinese faces at 9 months of age.
The research has important implications for individuals and society as a whole, according to Dr Herbert: “Because the ORE makes it hard to distinguish individuals from other ethnic groups, it leaves people vulnerable to perceiving individuals from another race as one group – which may in turn affect their attitudes about, and their social interactions with, these individuals. There is indeed evidence that the social judgement of others based on their face is ubiquitous, affecting things like hiring for jobs and jury decisions.”
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