Structural face encoding: How task affects the N170's sensitivity to race.

Research paper by Keith B KB Senholzi, Tiffany A TA Ito

Indexed on: 08 Sep '12Published on: 08 Sep '12Published in: Social cognitive and affective neuroscience


The N170 event-related potential (ERP) component differentiates faces from non-faces, but studies aimed at investigating whether the processing indexed by this component is also sensitive to racial differences among faces have garnered conflicting results. Here, we explore how task affects the influence of race on the N170 among White participants. N170s were larger to ingroup White faces than outgroup Black faces, but only for those required to attend to race, suggesting that attention to race can result in deeper levels of processing for ingroup members. Conversely, N170s were larger to Black faces than White faces for participants who attended to the unique identity of the faces, suggesting that attention to identity can result in preferential recruitment of cognitive resources for outgroup members. Taken together, these findings suggest that race can differentially impact face processing at early stages of encoding, but differences in processing are contingent upon one's goal state.