Contact, configural coding and the other-race effect in face recognition


Correspondence should be addressed to Professor Gillian Rhodes, School of Psychology, University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Hwy, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia (e-mail:


The other-race effect (ORE) in face recognition describes a well-established finding of better recognition for own-race than other-race faces. Although widely thought to reflect differences in contact between own- and other-race faces, little is known about how different contact levels relate to changes in processing of those faces. This study investigated how contact affects the size of the ORE and the use of expert configural face-coding mechanisms. Using inversion decrements as an index of configural coding, we predicted that increased self-reported contact would be associated with greater use of configural-coding mechanisms. Chinese and Caucasian participants varying in contact with other-race faces were recruited. The Chinese participants also varied in their length of residence in a Western country. Results showed that higher levels of contact were associated with a reduction in the ORE in both face recognition and configural coding. Importantly, smaller cross-race differences in configural coding were also associated with a smaller ORE in face recognition.