Distortions in the perceived lightness of faces: the role of race categories

J Exp Psychol Gen. 2006 Nov;135(4):501-12. doi: 10.1037/0096-3445.135.4.501.


Although lightness perception is clearly influenced by contextual factors, it is not known whether knowledge about the reflectance of specific objects also affects their lightness. Recent research by O. H. MacLin and R. Malpass (2003) suggests that subjects label Black faces as darker than White faces, so in the current experiments, an adjustment methodology was used to test the degree to which expectations about the relative skin tone associated with faces of varying races affect the perceived lightness of those faces. White faces were consistently judged to be relatively lighter than Black faces, even for racially ambiguous faces that were disambiguated by labels. Accordingly, relatively abstract expectations about the relative reflectance of objects can affect their perceived lightness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention
  • Black People / psychology*
  • Color Perception*
  • Contrast Sensitivity*
  • Face*
  • Female
  • Field Dependence-Independence
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Optical Illusions
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Perceptual Distortion*
  • Skin Pigmentation*
  • Stereotyping
  • White People / psychology*