Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

The Influence of Flankers on Race Categorization of Faces

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

The Influence of Flankers on Race Categorization of Faces

Article excerpt

Published online: 24 July 2012

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2012

Abstract Context affects multiple cognitive and perceptual processes. In the present study, we asked how the context of a set of faces would affect the perception of a target face's race in two distinct tasks. In Experiments 1 and 2, participants categorized target faces according to perceived racial category (Black or White). In Experiment 1, the target face was presented alone or with Black or White flanker faces. The orientation of flanker faces was also manipulated to investigate how face inversion effect would interact with the influences of flanker faces on the target face. The results showed that participants were more likely to categorize the target face as White when it was surrounded by inverted White faces (an assimilation effect). Experiment 2 further examined how different aspects of the visual context would affect the perception of the target face by manipulating flanker faces' shape and pigmentation, as well as their orientation. The results showed that flanker faces' shape and pigmentation affected the perception of the target face differently. While shape elicited a contrast effect, pigmentation appeared to be assimilative. These novel findings suggest that the perceived race of a face is modulated by the appearance of other faces and their distinct shape and pigmentation properties. However, the contrast and assimilation effects elicited by flanker faces' shape and pigmentation may be specific to race categorization, since the same stimuli used in a delayed matching task (Experiment 3) revealed that flanker pigmentation induced a contrast effect on the perception of target pigmentation.

Keywords Categorization . Face perception . Perceptual categorization and identification . Context effect


Contextual information plays an important role in a variety of cognitive and perceptual processes. For example, in the classic Reicher-Wheeler paradigm, participants can identify a letter better when it appears in a word (e.g., dark) than when it appears in either a pseudoword (e.g., darl) or a nonword (e.g., drkl), demonstrating that word context disambiguates and facilitates the recognition of embedded letters (the word superiority effect; Reicher, 1969; Wheeler, 1970). Additionally, scene context can affect object recognition. When participants are presented with a scene, objects that are consistent with that context are recognized more easily than objects that are not (e.g., Bar, 2004; Biederman, Mezzanotte, & Rabinowitz, 1982; Davenport & Potter, 2004; Sun, Simon-Dack, Gordon, & Teder, 2011). For example, the context of a kitchen facilitates recognition of a loaf of bread, relative to objects one would not expect to find in a kitchen, like a drum (Palmer, 1975). Context cues also affect face processing. Verbal contexts such as "She just found/ lost $500" can bias the valence ratings of surprised faces in a positive or a negative direction (Kim et al., 2004). In terms of visual contextual cues, a face appearing with different external features (e.g., hairstyle, speaking position) can be perceived as two distinct individuals even when the internal features of the face are identical (Sinha & Poggio, 1996).

In the present study, we examined a particular kind of contextual influence on face recognition: How does the presence of surrounding faces affect the perception of a single target? In real-world situations, we frequently encounter faces in the presence of other faces, and these surrounding faces may also provide a context that biases the perception of an individual target. Recent studies using faces as stimuli in the Eriksen flanker paradigm (Eriksen & Eriksen, 1974) have shown effects of neighboring faces on the perception of a target face. For example, Fenske and Eastwood (2003) had participants view a centrally presented target face that could express either positive or negative emotion. …

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