There is an exhaustive amount of research that focuses on how people perceive facial expressions of others within their race and other races. Less attention has been focused on which parts of the brain are activated when this process occurs. Tawanda M. Greer of the Department of Psychology at the University of South Carolina helped fill this void in literature by conducting a study that compared the neural activity of white Americans and African-Americans in a facial perception task. Greer used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure brain activity while the participants looked at pictures of same- and other-race faces in states of happiness, anger, or neutral states. Greer asked the participants to rate the trustworthiness of the faces in order to measure how neural processing related to threat evaluation. She also considered prior racial events and prejudice that the African-American participants had experienced when analyzing her data.
Greer discovered that when evaluating happy faces, African-Americans rated the happy and neutral faces of other African-Americans as the most trustworthy, while the white people rated the happy African-American faces as more trustworthy than happy faces of other whites. Although interesting, this could be due to a heightened sense of deception and suspicion that can be associated with a forced smile. Greer also found that the participants rated angry African-American faces as more threatening than angry white faces. Both groups agreed that angry African-American faces were the least trustworthy of all the faces.
When Greer looked at the MRIs, it was revealed that the whites and African-Americans had different patterns of neural activity during the tasks. The whites had more activation in brain regions linked to cognitive capacity and conflict resolution, while the African-Americans had more brain activity in regions that are involved in memory and emotion. Greer believes that the presence of a prior negative interracial experience, which predicted African-American responses of mistrust to neutral white faces, could be represented in the activation of emotional regions of the brain. The images Greer used, which included faces in health care settings and legal environments, were designed to be personal in nature in order to capture meaningful responses. She hopes that this research will be useful in arenas that require social cue processing, especially within the context of personal matters, such as health care settings. “Our findings suggest that race and cultural background should be examined as important contributors to social perception and decision-making in future imaging studies,” she added.
Greer, Tawanda M., Jennifer M. Vendemia, and Melita Stancil. Neural correlates of race-related social evaluations for African-Americans and white Americans. Neuropsychology 26.6 (2012): 704-12. Print.
© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.