The own-race bias for face recognition in a multiracial society

Hoo Keat Wong*, Ian D. Stephen, David R. T. Keeble

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)
34 Downloads (Pure)


The own-race bias (ORB) is a reliable phenomenon across cultural and racial groups where unfamiliar faces from other races are usually remembered more poorly than own-race faces (Meissner and Brigham, 2001). By adopting a yes–no recognition paradigm, we found that ORB was pronounced across race groups (Malaysian–Malay, Malaysian–Chinese, Malaysian–Indian, and Western–Caucasian) when faces were presented with only internal features (Experiment 1), implying that growing up in a profoundly multiracial society does not necessarily eliminate ORB. Using a procedure identical to Experiment 1, we observed a significantly greater increment in recognition performance for other-race faces than for own-race faces when the external features (e.g. facial contour and hairline) were presented along with the internal features (Experiment 2)—this abolished ORB. Contrary to assumptions based on the contact hypothesis, participants’ self-reported amount of interracial contact on a social contact questionnaire did not significantly predict the magnitude of ORB. Overall, our findings suggest that the level of exposure to other-race faces accounts for only a small part of ORB. In addition, the present results also support the notion that different neural mechanisms may be involved in processing own- and other-race faces, with internal features of own-race faces being processed more effectively, whereas external features dominate representations of other-race faces.

Original languageEnglish
Article number208
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 6 Mar 2020

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2020. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • cross-cultural
  • face recognition
  • multiracial
  • other-race effect
  • own-race bias


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