Lightness judgments of face stimuli are context-dependent (i.e., judgments of face lightness are influenced by race classification). Here, we tested whether contextual effects in face lightness perception are modulated by expertise, exploiting well-known other race effects in face perception. We used a lightness-matching paradigm where Chinese and White observers were asked to adjust the lightness of a variable face to match that of a standard face. The context (i.e., race category) of the two faces could be the same or different. Our data indicated that both groups had the smallest matching errors in same-context trials, for which errors did not vary across different racial categories. For cross-context trials, observers made the largest (negative) errors when the reference face was Black, as compared to Chinese and White references, for which matching errors were no different from zero or trended positively. Critically, this pattern was similar for both groups. We suggest that contextual influences in lightness perception are unlikely to be guided by classical mechanisms that drive face perception. We instead speculate that such influences manifest in terms of an interaction between race assumptions (e.g., expected surface reflectance patterns) and traditional mechanisms for reflectance computations.
Keywords: contextual effects; face perception; lightness perception; other-race effect.