Theses Doctoral

Perceiver Contributors to Facial Recognition: How Might Racial (Self) Awareness Facilitate or Inhibit Cross-Racial Identification?

Sant-Barket, Sinead

The cross-race identification effect is a phenomenon anecdotally experienced by many people in viewing, perceiving, and recalling human faces when the perceiver and target individual are not of the same race. In popular vernacular, the idea that ‘they all look alike’ when referring to people from other racial groups has been studied extensively with results providing evidence that “people of other races appear more similar to each other than people of [ones] own race” (Maclin & Malpass, 2001, p. 99). While the cross-race identification effect (or the greater ability to accurately recall same-race than other-race faces and the poorer ability to correctly recall other-race compared to same-race faces) has been found across all racial groups with Whites or Caucasians exhibiting the strongest effect, scholars continue to be challenged with understanding what factors contribute to the effect.

An aspect of the cross-race effect that has received minimal attention is the notion of race as a construct in and of itself. Utilization of White racial identity (Helms, 1990) as a psychological variable in social science research is posited to provide a more precise evaluation of White individuals’ social attitudes with respect to race and racial group membership, as compared to the racial socio-demographic categories commonly used in research studies. Based on this contention, the current study sought to empirically explore whether White perceiver’s racial identity status attitudes were associated with Black (or other-race) facial recognition. The sample included 269 White adults from across the U.S. Through an online survey platform, participants viewed a series of White and Black facial images. After completing an intermediary task, they were shown the old in addition to new White and Black facial images and were asked to determine which faces they had and had not seen before in the study. Respondents also completed the White Racial Identity Attitude Scale (Helms & Carter, 1990) and a demographic questionnaire. Results indicated that the cross-race identification effect was present in the current study, with White participants demonstrating greater overall accuracy, fewer inaccurate identifications, and a more cautious decision strategy (that generally leads for fewer false identifications) when responding to White (same-race) faces as compared to Black faces. Additionally, Black (cross-racial) facial recognition was significantly related to White racial identity with participants who endorsed an absence of racist views and internal conflict in reaction to race-salient information displaying high rates of correct Black identifications. Implications for theory, research, and practice are discussed.


  • thumnail for SantBarket_columbia_0054D_15277.pdf SantBarket_columbia_0054D_15277.pdf application/pdf 1.51 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Counseling Psychology
Thesis Advisors
Gushue, George V.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 5, 2019