Experience and the Other-Race Effect

The other-race effect is the reduced ability to recognize strangers’ faces of another race relative to strangers’ faces of one’s own race. Many studies have demonstrated the reliability of this effect  (see Meissner & Brigham, 2001, for a review).  And a number of studies suggest that experience beginning in infancy is important for the development of the other-race effect (e.g., Bar-Haim, Ziv, Lamy, & Hodes, 2006). In short, beginning in the first year of life, children gradually become better at recognizing faces of those belonging to the race (or races) they most frequently interact with and gradually lose the ability to recognize faces of those belonging to other races.

Some researchers have tested the claim that the other-race effect depends on early experience by exposing young children to other-race faces. For example, Heron-Delaney, Anzures, Herbert, et al. (2011) noted that Caucasian children typically begin to develop the other-race effect between the ages of 6 and 9 months. Thus, they had parents periodically show their infants pictures of Chinese faces during this time. The researchers found that, even though the total amount of exposure to Chinese faces over the 3-month period was only about 70 minutes, these infants were able to recognize Chine faces as well as Caucasian faces, whereas infants not exposed to Chinese faces during that time showed the other-race-effect.

Some research suggests that early-childhood experiences may not have permanent effects on other-race facial recognition. One study found that adults of Korean origin who, between the ages of 3 to 9 years, moved to France, Switzerland, or Belgium after being adopted into Caucasian families were better at recognizing Caucasian faces than Asian faces (Sangrigoli, Pallier, Argenti, Ventureyra, & de Schonen, 2005). The researchers concluded that, because these individuals experienced primarily Caucasian faces in later childhood, not only was the other-race effect eliminated for them, it was reversed.

Another study, however, found that Chinese and Vietnamese children (6 to 14 years of age) adopted into Caucasian families in Belgium between the ages of 2 and 26 months recognized Caucasian and Asian faces equally well (De Heering, De Liedekerke, Deboni, & Rossion, 2009). In other words, experience with Caucasian faces eliminated the other-race effect but it did not cause a reversal of the effect.


Bar-Haim, Y., Ziv, T., Lamy, D., & Hodes, R. M. (2006). Nature and nurture in own-race face processing. Psychological Science, 17, 159-163. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01679.x

De Heering, A., De Liedekerke, C., Deboni, M., Rossion, B. (2009). The role of experience during childhood in shaping the other-race effect. Developmental Science, 13, 181–187. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7687.2009.00876.x

Heron-Delaney, M., Anzures, G., Herbert, J. S., Quinn, P. C., Slater, A. M., Tanaka, J. W., et al. (2011). Perceptual training prevents the emergence of the other race effect during infancy. PLoS ONE 6(5), e19858. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0019858

Meissner, C.A., & Brigham, J.C. (2001). Thirty years of investigating the own-race bias in memory for faces: A meta-analytic review. Psychology, Public Policy and Law, 7, 3–35.

Sangrigoli, S., Pallier, C., Argenti, A.-M., Ventureyra, V. A. G., & de Schonen, S. (2005). Reversibility of the other-race effect in face recognition during childhood. Psychological Science, 16, 440-444. doi:10.1111/j.0956-7976.2005.01554.x