Wondering is enough: Uncertainty about category information undermines face recognition

Devin G. Ray* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
6 Downloads (Pure)


Some social categories are almost always identifiable in face-to-face interaction (e.g. race and gender). Information about many other category memberships (e.g., religion, sexual orientation) can be uncertain, however. This work explores the influence of uncertainty about category information on face recognition. Current accounts of intergroup bias in face recognition (specifically, the feature selection model and categorization-individuation model) are extended to predict that uncertainty about category information would undermine later recognition of another person. Experiment 1 provided an initial test of the hypothesis by comparing recognition of faces for which category membership was uncertain to recognition of faces belonging to certain ingroup and outgroup members. Experiment 2 used a different comparison group (a threatening outgroup) in order to rule out two alternative interpretations of Experiment 1. Finally, Experiment 3 manipulated category uncertainty without direct reference to outgroup membership in order to address the possibility that uncertain group memberships might be redefined as an entitative outgroup. Across experiments, results converged to indicate that uncertainty about category information undermined face recognition. These results buttress current accounts of facial recognition bias by successfully extending them to a new domain, extend theoretical treatments of motivation as an antecedent variable in face recognition, apply a boundary condition to the influence of threatening stimuli on bias in face recognition, call into question recent findings about the cognitive system’s treatment of uncategorized individuals, and identify uncertainty as a determinant of person perception.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-25
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Early online date11 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - May 2019


  • face recognition
  • social categorization
  • own-group effect
  • own-race effect
  • cross-race effect
  • person perception
  • Own-group effect
  • Social categorization
  • Face recognition
  • Own-race effect
  • Cross-race effect
  • Person perception


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