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PLoS One. 2017 Mar 10;12(3):e0173579. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0173579. eCollection 2017.

Cognitive control, attention, and the other race effect in memory.

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Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, California, United States of America.
Department of Neurology, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, California, United States of America.
Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, United States of America.
Neurosciences Program, Stanford University, Stanford, California, United States of America.


People are better at remembering faces from their own race than other races-a phenomenon with significant societal implications. This Other Race Effect (ORE) in memory could arise from different attentional allocation to, and cognitive control over, same- and other-race faces during encoding. Deeper or more differentiated processing of same-race faces could yield more robust representations of same- vs. other-race faces that could support better recognition memory. Conversely, to the extent that other-race faces may be characterized by lower perceptual expertise, attention and cognitive control may be more important for successful encoding of robust, distinct representations of these stimuli. We tested a mechanistic model in which successful encoding of same- and other-race faces, indexed by subsequent memory performance, is differentially predicted by (a) engagement of frontoparietal networks subserving top-down attention and cognitive control, and (b) interactions between frontoparietal networks and fusiform cortex face processing. European American (EA) and African American (AA) participants underwent fMRI while intentionally encoding EA and AA faces, and ~24 hrs later performed an "old/new" recognition memory task. Univariate analyses revealed greater engagement of frontoparietal top-down attention and cognitive control networks during encoding for same- vs. other-race faces, stemming particularly from a failure to engage the cognitive control network during processing of other-race faces that were subsequently forgotten. Psychophysiological interaction (PPI) analyses further revealed that OREs were characterized by greater functional interaction between medial intraparietal sulcus, a component of the top-down attention network, and fusiform cortex during same- than other-race face encoding. Together, these results suggest that group-based face memory biases at least partially stem from differential allocation of cognitive control and top-down attention during encoding, such that same-race memory benefits from elevated top-down attentional engagement with face processing regions; conversely, reduced recruitment of cognitive control circuitry appears more predictive of memory failure when encoding out-group faces.

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