1996 volume 25(6) pages 669 – 676
doi:10.1068/p250669

Cite as:
O'Toole A J, Peterson J, Deffenbacher K A, 1996, "An 'other-race effect' for categorizing faces by sex" Perception 25(6) 669 – 676

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An 'other-race effect' for categorizing faces by sex

Alice J O'Toole, Jennifer Peterson, Kenneth A Deffenbacher

Received 20 November 1995, in revised form 29 February 1996

Abstract. It is well-known that people recognize faces of their own race more accurately than faces of other races -- a phenomenon often referred to as the 'other-race effect'. Using brief presentations of faces, we show a similar effect for the task of discriminating the sex of a face. Specifically, Caucasian observers discriminated male and female Caucasian faces more accurately/efficiently than did Oriental observers, and Oriental observers discriminated male and female Japanese faces more accurately/efficiently than did Caucasian observers. This result indicates that, under suboptimal viewing conditions, the identification of even the most salient of facial characteristics -- face sex -- is impaired for other-race faces. This finding suggests, also, that the nature and diversity of our experience with faces may affect not only the quality of the face representation for later access by recognition processes, but also the efficiency of a perceptual discrimination process. Intriguingly, too, we found that female observers, for both races tested, were considerably more accurate at the sex classification task than were male observers.

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