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Processing Social Category Information from Faces

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The goal of the proposed research is to investigate how social category information such as race, gender, and age affect the perception of faces. This will be done by drawing on work from two related yet not-well-integrated lines of research. The first deals with early perceptual processing of faces, and the second focuses more generally on impression formation. Research in the former tradition has not often addressed the role of social category information whereas work in the latter tradition has not addressed how early perceptual processes affect outcomes such as stereotyping and prejudice.

Preliminary research we have done using event-related brain potentials (ERPOs) shows that target race and gender have multiple discrete effects on the processing of faces beginning as early as 100 ms after stimulus onset (Ito & Urland, in press). Moreover, these effects differ throughout the time course of processing. Based on this, the working hypothesis of the proposed research is that social category membership affects the perception of faces at very early stages of processing, and that it has different effects as processing progresses. Studies are proposed that (a) assess the degree to which the perception of social category membership is a multi-staged process, (b) examine whether a single model can account for processing of different group dimensions, and (c) assess how early perceptual aspects of face processing relate to stereotyping and prejudice. More generally, the proposed research will integrate models from cognitive neuroscience on face perception with social psychological models of social perception with the ultimate goal of better understanding the full time course of how social cues are extracted from faces and later affect the activation of stereotypes and prejudice.

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