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PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e37824. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0037824. Epub 2012 May 25.

Is the self always better than a friend? Self-face recognition in Christians and atheists.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Peking University, Beijing, People's Republic of China.


Early behavioral studies found that human adults responded faster to their own faces than faces of familiar others or strangers, a finding referred to as self-face advantage. Recent research suggests that the self-face advantage is mediated by implicit positive association with the self and is influenced by sociocultural experience. The current study investigated whether and how Christian belief and practice affect the processing of self-face in a Chinese population. Christian and Atheist participants were recruited for an implicit association test (IAT) in Experiment 1 and a face-owner identification task in Experiment 2. Experiment 1 found that atheists responded faster to self-face when it shared the same response key with positive compared to negative trait adjectives. This IAT effect, however, was significantly reduced in Christians. Experiment 2 found that atheists responded faster to self-face compared to a friend's face, but this self-face advantage was significantly reduced in Christians. Hierarchical regression analyses further showed that the IAT effect positively predicted self-face advantage in atheists but not in Christians. Our findings suggest that Christian belief and practice may weaken implicit positive association with the self and thus decrease the advantage of the self over a friend during face recognition in the believers.

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