Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience

, Volume 18, Issue 5, pp 1015–1033 | Cite as

Neural evidence for the contribution of holistic processing but not attention allocation to the other-race effect on face memory

  • Grit Herzmann
  • Greta Minor
  • Tim Curran


Multiple mechanisms have been suggested to contribute to the other-race effect on face memory, the phenomenon of better memory performance for own-race than other-race faces. Here, two of these mechanisms, increased attention allocation and greater holistic processing during memory encoding for own-race than other-race faces, were tested in two separate experiments. In these experiments event-related potentials were measured during study (the difference due to memory, Dm) and test phase (old/new effects) to examine brain activation related to memory encoding and retrieval, allowing for selective investigations of these memory sub-processes. In Experiment 1, participants studied own-race (Caucasian) and other-race (Chinese) faces under focused or divided attention. In Experiment 2, participants studied own-race (Caucasian) and other-race (African American) faces presented upright or upside down (i.e., inverted). Both experiments showed decreases in memory performance when attention allocation or holistic processing was reduced, but these effects were similar for own-race and other-race faces. Manipulations of holistic processing, but not attention allocation, influenced the neural other-race effects during memory encoding. Inverted own-race faces showed similar neural patterns as upright other-race faces, indicating that when holistic processing of own-race faces was reduced, these faces were encoded similarly as upright other-race faces. No influences of the experimental manipulations on other-race effects during memory retrieval were found. The present study provides the first neural evidence that increased holistic processing during memory encoding contributes to the other-race effect on face memory.


Attention Episodic memory ERP Holistic processing Faces Race 



This research was funded by NIH Grant MH096698, NSF Grant #SMA-1041755 to the Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center, an NSF Science of Learning Center, and NSF Grant #NSF-REU DBI #1560061. It was also supported by The College of Wooster sophomore research program. We would like to thank Chris Bird, Krystin Corby, and Shaina Martis as well as S. Asante, J. Ayers, B. Baker, C. Barton, W. Carpenter, K. Cording, A. Fertman, B. Garcia, I. Goldanloo, J. Graham, K. Heuer, K. Hubert, A. Nye, K. Poston, C. Roark, N. Smith, P. Stroh, B. Swearingen, and R. Wong for research assistance. Portions of the research in this paper use the Color FERET database of facial images collected under the FERET program (Phillips et al., 2000) and the CAS-PEAL face database (Gao et al., 2004) collected under the sponsor of the Chinese National Hi-Tech Program and ISVISION Tech. Co. Ltd.

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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyThe College of WoosterWoosterUSA
  2. 2.Department of Psychology and NeuroscienceUniversity of Colorado BoulderBoulderUSA

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