A new research has shed light on a well documented phenomenon known as the "other-race effect," that explains why people are less likely to remember a face from a racial group different from their own.
Northwestern University researchers have provided new biological evidence suggesting that the brain works differently when memorizing the face of a person from one's own race than when memorizing a face from another race.
"Scientists have put forward numerous ideas about why people do not recognize other-race faces as well as same-race faces," Northwestern psychology professor Ken Paller said.
The discovery of a neural marker of successful encoding of other-race faces will help put these ideas to the test, according to Paller.
The Northwestern team found that brain activity increases in the very first 200 to 250 milliseconds upon seeing both same-race and other-race faces.
To their surprise, however, they found that the amplitude of that increased brain activity only predicts whether an other-race face (not a same-race face) is later remembered.
"There appears to be a critical phase shortly after an other-race face appears that determines whether or not that face will be remembered or forgotten," explained doctoral student Heather Lucas, coauthor of the study.
"In other words, the process of laying down a memory begins almost immediately after one first sees the face," he added.