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The Cross-Race-Effect (also Cross-Race-Bias or Other-Race-Bias) describes the decreased ability to recognize and process faces and facial expressions of people not belonging to your our own ethnic group compared to people’s faces of your own ethnic group [1] In this neural phenomenon of face recognition humans perform better when they recognize faces and emotional facial expressions of persons of their own race in comparison ot faces and emotional facial expressions of persons of other races.

The Cross-Race-Effect is scientifically explored by the Behavioral Biology, Human or Urban Ethology and Social Psychology. In Social Psychology the Cross—Race Bias is described as the "In-Group-Advantage". In the narrower sense the Cross-Race Effect is a special form of the "In-Group-Advantage", because it is only applied in interracial or interethnical situations.



In-Group-Advantage means that persons evaluate and judge members of their own group as better and fairer than members of other (Out-Group-Disadvantage). Hereby, the meaning of group can differ from family, teammates in a soccer team up to humanity. The only important thing is that the group has to be defined from something else, e.g. one’s family from another family or the human race from animals.

Social Psychologists proved in the last 30 years [2] that even the smallest aspect like taste of ice cream or style of music could trigger In-Group-Advantage. If the group-building factor is the race of a person, than we mostly talk about the Cross-Race-Effect.

Cross-Race-Effect or Other-Race-Effect

An Meta-Analysis about several studies about emotion recognition in facial expressions[3] revealed that persons could recognize and interpret the emotional facial expression of a person of his own race faster and better than of a person of other races. These findings apply to a races in the same way [4] This inability has several reasons. One of them ist he different shape of the faces of other races (compared to one’s own race) and the different details of a facial expression own uses to decode emotional expressions.[5][6]. The Journal "Current Biology" reported in August 2009 that experiments had shown that for example Chinese people not look on the mouth of a person to determine his emotion. In Western Cultures, however, anger and sadness is often displayed via the shape of the mouth. This shows very nicely, that a person very easily can get the feeling of not being able "to read" in the faces of other cultures. Inner Brain Processes also hinder in the beginning the correct decoding and storage of faces of other races. That’s why one often has the feeling that people of other races "look all alike". Over time these perceptional processes change and adapt and the Cross-Race-Effect diminishes.

The favorism of In-Group members also results from the decreased inborn motivation to read in a face of a person of another group or culture. Hess, Senecal & Kirouac[7] could show 1996 that the motivation to decode the emotional facial expression instantly decreased, when the experimental subject realized that the face belonged to a person of another race. The Latin word hostis, from which the English word hostility is derived, not only meant enemy but also foreigner. This shows that even 2,000 years ago the ingroup-advantage found its way in the linguistic usage.

In order to discuss, how the Cross-Race-Effect can be influenced, one may point to the following study by Um zu erörtern, ob sich der Cross-Race-Effect oder der Cross-Race-Bias Paul Ekman, who is nowadays more known for his studies on Micro-Expressions: Ekman und Friesen observed 1976 that solely the contact with foreign race raise the recognition rate of facial expressions. They showed pictures of white Americans to a tribe in New Guinea. The Americans either smiled, looked sad or angry. The members of the tribe who had been exposed to foreigners before could read the emotions in the American faces much better. This experiment was repeated by Ducci, Arcuri, Georgis and Sineshaw 1982. This time they went to Ethiopia and compared the recognition rate of Ethiopians who lived in cities and had contact to a lot of Americans with Ethiopians who lived in remote villages.

These results as the metaanalysis from Elfenbein und Ambady from the year 2002 show that there is "cultural emotional learning". Important factors of the learning process are the duration and frequency of exposure and the motivation of the trainee. The brain automatically learns to process the information better and more acuarate.[5] [6].

The results of a project, funded by the Federal German Ministry of Economies and Technologies and the European Social Fund, showed 2008 that even with an e-learning software, the Cross-Race-Effect can be significantly deminished. [8]

Economic Consequences of the Cross-Race-Effect

In a globalized world, in which different cultures and races collaborate and negotiate about contracts, licenses, rights and political decisions, one clearly sees the negative impacts of the cross-race effect. Prof. Thomas (Department of Intercultural Communication, Regensburg, Germany) stated that at least 50% of Western-Chinese negotiations fail due to an impaired communication. Even signed contracts lead in 60-70% of the cases to suboptimal results. "Trends in Managing Mobility 2007" [9] analysed that 30% of the failed negotiations can be indirectly traced back to the Cross-Race-Effect. Results of the Cross-Race Effect are e.g. reduced emotional intelligence, bad evaluation of the trustworthiness, low abilities to communicate, missing empathy and a decreased ability to judge the overall situation of a negotiation.


  1. ^ Influencing Factors of the different Recognition Rates of Faces of your own Ethnic group and Faces of other ethnic groups (Cross-Race Bias)
  2. ^ e.g. M. Beaupre (2006): An Ingroup Advantage for Confidence in Emotion Recognition Judgments: The Moderating Effect of Familiarity With the Expressions of Outgroup Members. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Band 32(1), S. 16-26.
  3. ^ Elfenbein, H.A. & Ambidi, N. (2002b): On the universality and cultural specificity of emotion recognition: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, Band 128(2), S. 203-235
  4. ^ Anthony, T.; Cooper, C. & Mullen, B. (1992): Cross-racial facial identification: A social cognitive integration. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Band 18, S. 296–301
  5. ^ a b Sporer, S.L. (2001a): Recognizing Faces of Other Ethnic Groups. Public Policy, and Law, Band 7(1), S. 36-97.
  6. ^ a b Sporer, S.L. (2001b): The Cross-Race Effect. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, Band 7(1), S. 170-200
  7. ^ Hess, U.; Kappas, A.; Bause, R. (1995): The intensity of facial expression is determined by underlying affective states and social situations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Band 69(2), S. 280-288
  8. ^ Global Emotion Project"Reduction of the Cross-Race-Effect by applying a game-based E-Learning Software"
  9. ^ ECA International (2007): Trends in Managing Mobility 2007
  • Marcon, J. L., Meissner, C. A., & Malpass, R. S. (in press). Cross-race effect in eyewitness identification. In B. Cutler’s (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Psychology & Law. Sage Publications

Further reading

  • Brigham, J. C., Bennett, L. B., Meissner, C. A., & Mitchell, T. L. (2006). The influence of race on eyewitness memory. In R. Lindsay, D. Ross, J. Read, & M. Toglia, (Eds). Handbook of Eyewitness Psychology: Memory for People, (pp. 257–281). Lawrence Erlbaum & Associates.
  • Meissner, C. A., & Brigham, J. C. (2001). Thirty years of investigating the own-race bias in memory for faces: A meta-analytic review. Psychology, Public Policy, & Law, 7, 3-35.
  • Sporer, S. L. (2001). Recognizing faces of other ethnic groups: An integration of theories. Psychology, Public Policy, & Law, 7, 36-97.

See also

External links

  • Global Emotion Online-Training to overcome the Cross-Race-Effect for China


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