Monday, August 25, 2014

own-race and own-age biases facilitate visual awareness of faces under interocular suppression


frontiersin |  The detection of a face in a visual scene is the first stage in the face processing hierarchy. Although all subsequent, more elaborate face processing depends on the initial detection of a face, surprisingly little is known about the perceptual mechanisms underlying face detection. Recent evidence suggests that relatively hard-wired face detection mechanisms are broadly tuned to all face-like visual patterns as long as they respect the typical spatial configuration of the eyes above the mouth. Here, we qualify this notion by showing that face detection mechanisms are also sensitive to face shape and facial surface reflectance properties. We used continuous flash suppression (CFS) to render faces invisible at the beginning of a trial and measured the time upright and inverted faces needed to break into awareness. Young Caucasian adult observers were presented with faces from their own race or from another race (race experiment) and with faces from their own age group or from another age group (age experiment). Faces matching the observers’ own race and age group were detected more quickly. Moreover, the advantage of upright over inverted faces in overcoming CFS, i.e., the face inversion effect (FIE), was larger for own-race and own-age faces. These results demonstrate that differences in face shape and surface reflectance influence access to awareness and configural face processing at the initial detection stage. Although we did not collect data from observers of another race or age group, these findings are a first indication that face detection mechanisms are shaped by visual experience with faces from one’s own social group. Such experience-based fine-tuning of face detection mechanisms may equip in-group faces with a competitive advantage for access to conscious awareness.