The Other-Race Effect Revisited: No Effect for Faces Varying in Race Only

  • Isabelle BülthoffEmail author
  • Regine G. M. Armann
  • Ryo Kyung Lee
  • Heinrich H. Bülthoff
Part of the Trends in Augmentation of Human Performance book series (TAHP, volume 5)


The other-race effect refers to the observation that we perform better in tasks involving faces of our own race compared to faces of a race we are not familiar with. This is especially interesting as from a biological perspective, the category “race” does in fact not exist (Cosmides L, Tooby J, Krurzban R, Trends Cogn Sci 7(4):173–179, 2003); visually, however, we do group the people around us into such categories. Usually, the other-race effect is investigated in memory tasks where observers have to learn and subsequently recognize faces of individuals of different races (Meissner CA, Brigham JC, Psychol Public Policy Law 7(1):3–35, 2001) but it has also been demonstrated in perceptual tasks where observers compare one face to another on a screen (Walker PM, Tanaka J, Perception 32(9):1117–1125, 2003). In all tasks (and primarily for technical reasons) the test faces differ in race and identity. To broaden our general understanding of the effect that the race of a face has on the observer, in the present study, we investigated whether an other-race effect is also observed when participants are confronted with faces that differ only in ethnicity but not in identity. To that end, using Asian and Caucasian faces and a morph algorithm (Blanz V, Vetter T, A morphable model for the synthesis of 3D faces. In: Proceedings of the 26th annual conference on Computer graphics and interactive techniques – SIGGRAPH’99, pp 187–194, 1999), we manipulated each original Asian or Caucasian face to generate face “race morphs” that shared the same identity but whose race appearance was manipulated stepwise toward the other ethnicity. We presented each Asian or Caucasian face pair (original face and a race morph) to Asian (South Korea) and Caucasian (Germany) participants who had to judge which face in each pair looked “more Asian” or “more Caucasian”. In both groups, participants did not perform better for same-race pairs than for other-race pairs. These results point to the importance of identity information for the occurrence of an other-race effect.


Human face recognition Other-race effect Race vs identity information 



We wish to thank Karin Bierig for her help in running this experiment. This study was supported by the Max Planck Society, by the WCU (World Class University) program and by the Brain Korea 21 PLUS Program both funded by the Ministry of Education through the National Research Foundation of Korea. Please address correspondence to I. Bülthoff (


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Isabelle Bülthoff
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Regine G. M. Armann
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Ryo Kyung Lee
    • 2
  • Heinrich H. Bülthoff
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Max Planck Institute for Biological CyberneticsTübingenGermany
  2. 2.Department of Brain and Cognitive EngineeringKorea UniversitySeoulRepublic of Korea
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of YorkYorkUK

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