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Multiracial Faces: How Categorization Affects Memory at the Boundaries of Race


  • The authors would like to thank Robyn Yano for her help in data collection and, issue editors, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier versions of this article. This research was supported by a Jacob K. Javits Fellowship to the first author and a National Institute of Mental Health research grant (1R01MH70833-01A1) to the second author.

*Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Kristin Pauker, Department of Psychology, Tufts University, 490 Boston Avenue, MA 02155 [e-mail:].


Monoracial and multiracial individuals are likely to have different conceptualizations of race and subsequently different approaches toward racial ambiguity. In particular, monoracial individuals may be more likely to rely on categories when processing ambiguous faces, whereas multiracial individuals may tend to ignore such categorizations due to a reduced tendency to essentialize race. We compared monoracial (White and Asian) and biracial (Asian/White) individuals' memory patterns. Specifically, we examined participants' memory for White, Asian, and biracial faces labelled as either White or Asian. Both White and Asian participants relied on the labels, remembering faces labeled as the in-group better than faces labeled as the out-group. Biracial participants relied less on the labels, exhibiting better recognition memory overall. Biracial participants’ memory performance was also highly correlated with a less essentialist view of human traits. This cognitive flexibility may serve an adaptive function for biracial individuals and contribute to enhanced facial recognition.