Neural adaptation to faces reveals racial outgroup homogeneity effects in early perception

Brent L. Hughes, Nicholas P. Camp, Jesse Gomez, Vaidehi S. Natu, Kalanit Grill-Spector, Jennifer L. Eberhardt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


A hallmark of intergroup biases is the tendency to individuate members of one’s own group but process members of other groups categorically. While the consequences of these biases for stereotyping and discrimination are well-documented, their early perceptual underpinnings remain less understood. Here, we investigated the neural mechanisms of this effect by testing whether high-level visual cortex is differentially tuned in its sensitivity to variation in own-race versus other-race faces. Using a functional MRI adaptation paradigm, we measured White participants’ habituation to blocks of White and Black faces that parametrically varied in their groupwise similarity. Participants showed a greater tendency to individuate own-race faces in perception, showing both greater release from adaptation to unique identities and increased sensitivity in the adaptation response to physical difference among faces. These group differences emerge in the tuning of early face-selective cortex and mirror behavioral differences in the memory and perception of own- versus other-race faces. Our results suggest that biases for other-race faces emerge at some of the earliest stages of sensory perception.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)14532-14537
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number29
StatePublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Intergroup perception
  • Neural adaptation
  • Perceptual sensitivity
  • Race


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