Researchers have long debated the extent to which an individual’s skin tone influences their perceived race. Brooks and Gwinn (2010) demonstrated that the race of surrounding faces can affect the perceived skin tone of a central target face without changing perceived racial typicality, suggesting that skin lightness makes a small contribution to judgments of race compared to morphological cues (the configuration and shape of the facial features). However, the lack of a consistent light source may have undermined the reliability of skin tone cues, encouraging observers to rely disproportionately on morphological cues instead. The current study addresses this concern by using 3D models of male faces with typically Black African or White European appearances that are illuminated by the same light source. Observers perceived target faces surrounded by White faces to have darker skin than those surrounded by Black faces, particularly for faces of intermediate lightness. However, when asked to judge racial typicality, a small assimilation effect was evident, with target faces perceived as more stereotypically White when surrounded by White than when surrounded by Black faces at intermediate levels of typicality. This evidence of assimilation effects for perceived racial typicality despite concurrent contrast effects on perceived skin lightness supports the previous conclusion that perceived skin lightness has little influence on judgments of racial typicality for racially ambiguous faces, even when lighting is consistent.
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- skin tone
- facial morphology
- face perception
- skin tone bias
- lightness and brightness illusions