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The role of experience during childhood in shaping the other-race effect


Adélaïde de Heering, Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL), Faculté de Psychologie et des Sciences de l’Education (PSP), Unité de Cognition et Développement (CODE), Place du Cardinal Mercier, 10, B-1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium; e-mail:


It is well known that adults’ face recognition is characterized by an ‘other-race effect’ (ORE; see Meissner & Brigham, 2001), but few studies have investigated this ORE during the development of the face processing system. Here we examined the role of experience with other-race faces during childhood by testing a group of 6- to 14-year-old Asian children adopted between 2 and 26 months in Caucasian families living in Western Europe, as well as a group of age-matched Caucasian children. The latter group showed a strong ORE in favour of own-race faces that was stable from 6 to 14 years of age. The adopted participants did not show a significant reversal of the ORE, unlike a recently reported study (Sangrigoli et al., 2005), but rather comparable results with Asian and Caucasian faces. Their pattern of performance was neither influenced by their age of adoption, nor by the amount of experience they accumulated during childhood with other-race faces. These results indicate that the balance of performance with Asian and Caucasian faces can be modulated, but not completely reversed, in children whose exposure to own- and other-race faces changes drastically during the period of maturation of the face recognition system, depending on the length of exposure to the new face race. Overall, experience appears to be crucial during childhood to shape the face recognition system towards the most predominant morphologies of faces present in the environment.