Recognition of own-race and other-race faces by three-month-old infants

J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2004 Oct;45(7):1219-27. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2004.00319.x.


Background: People are better at recognizing faces of their own race than faces of another race. Such race specificity may be due to differential expertise in the two races.

Method: In order to find out whether this other-race effect develops as early as face-recognition skills or whether it is a long-term effect of acquired expertise, we tested face recognition in 3-month-old Caucasian infants by conducting two experiments using Caucasian and Asiatic faces and a visual pair-comparison task. We hypothesized that if the other race effect develops together with face processing skills during the first months of life, the ability to recognize own-race faces will be greater than the ability to recognize other-race faces: 3-month-old Caucasian infants should be better at recognizing Caucasian faces than Asiatic faces. If, on the contrary, the other-race effect is the long-term result of acquired expertise, no difference between recognizing own- and other-race faces will be observed at that age.

Results: In Experiment 1, Caucasian infants were habituated to a single face. Recognition was assessed by a novelty preference paradigm. The infants' recognition performance was better for Caucasian than for Asiatic faces. In Experiment 2, Caucasian infants were familiarized with three individual faces. Recognition was demonstrated with both Caucasian and Asiatic faces.

Conclusions: These results suggest that (i) the representation of face information by 3-month-olds may be race-experience-dependent (Experiment 1), and (ii) short-term familiarization with exemplars of another race group is sufficient to reduce the other-race effect and to extend the power of face processing (Experiment 2).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child Development
  • Continental Population Groups*
  • Face / anatomy & histology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Recognition, Psychology*