New tool helps blunt racial bias

Tanaka. Photo: Jocelyn Beyak

A new measurement tool and protocol developed by researchers at Brown University and the University of Victoria can help to reduce unconscious racial stereotypes, according to a recently published study.

UVic cognitive scientist Dr. Jim Tanaka (psychology) and his research group have developed a training protocol to improve people’s ability to recognize facial differences among individuals of a different race. Seeing people from other races as individuals by distinguishing their facial features, rather than considering them to be all members of one racial group, can help reduce racial stereotyping, says Tanaka.
The research project incorporated a new test of racial bias, the Affective Lexical Priming Score (ALPS), developed by researchers at Brown University.

Using ALPS to measure racial bias, 20 Caucasian subjects were shown a series of pictures of different races. After each photo of a face, subjects saw a word that could be real (“chair”) or nonsense (“malk”). Subjects had to differentiate between the nonsense and real words—which could have a negative or positive implication.

Before receiving any facial recognition training, subjects responded more quickly if a negative word followed an African-American face and more slowly if a positive word followed an African-American face.

Then, all subjects took part in 10 hours of Tanaka’s facial recognition training program in which they were trained to tell African-American faces apart. Subjects in the control group were trained simply to identify the faces as African- American or not. Subjects in the experimental group were trained to distinguish among individual African American faces.

“Even though the amount of raw perceptual exposure was identical in both groups,” says Tanaka, “we found that those who learned how to differentiate African American faces as individuals showed not only a greater improvement in their ability to recognize new African American faces, but also a reduction in racial bias as measured by ALPS.”

The study, Perceptual Other-Race Training Reduces Implicit Racial Bias, is published by PLoS ONE, an online, peer-reviewed journal from the US-based Public Library of Science ( Collaborating with Takana on the study was his former undergraduate student Lara Pierce, now a graduate student at McGill University.

Funding for the study came from the Perceptual Expertise Network, a collaborative award from the James S. McDonnell Foundation; the Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center at the University of California, San Diego; the National Science Foundation; a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada award; and a Brown University National Eye Institute training grant (the National Institutes of Health).

Back to Navigation