Date of Award


Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Master of Arts (AM/MA)

Degree Type



Our interactions with other people rely on our ability to perceive and distinguish faces based on snap decisions about their features. Past research has revealed that facial recognition is consistently better when the observer shares the same race as the person being identified or is roughly in the same age category (Meissner & Brigham, 2001; Rhodes & Anastasi, 2012). Although a misidentification can be irritating in daily life, high discriminability is especially important in situations where a misidentification could have drastic consequences, such as in eye witness testimony or during security checkpoints conducted by law enforcement. Although much research has been conducted to try to explain the cause of bias in favor of own-race and own-age faces, little is understood about the precise circumstances that give rise to these biases and when they begin to affect our perception or memory. I investigated the own-age bias (OAB) in younger and older adults and the own-race bias (ORB) in Caucasian and African American adults in a perceptual recognition task; the participant was shown a unique target face and immediately asked to respond to an array of faces and indicate if the target was present or absent before moving on to the next trial. The aim was to determine the factors that are influential in producing an in-group bias without a large memory load. I was interested in how set size, retention interval, and intervening distractor faces impact the OAB and the ORB. I looked at discriminability (d') because it is a better measure of sensitivity than the hit rate alone and I also measured response latency. Another goal of this study was to ascertain that any observable perceptual biases result from processing facial features and not from any other characteristic of the photographs or differences in photograph quality across facial categories. To ensure that participants relied solely on facial features rather than hair cues, the facial stimuli used in this study were carefully selected and all hair was removed by cropping the faces into an oval shape. I found that Caucasian individuals had higher discriminability, but not faster reaction times, for Caucasian faces compared to African American faces; however, African American individuals did not show an ORB. I failed to find any evidence of the OAB in either young or older adults. Larger test set size, longer retention interval, and the addition of intervening distractor faces had a general negative effect on recognition and reaction times but did not exacerbate the ORB or OAB.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Sandra Hale

Committee Members

Joel Myerson, Richard Abrams


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