Continuous dynamics in the real-time perception of race

Jonathan B. Freeman, Kristin Pauker, Evan P. Apfelbaum, Nalini Ambady

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although the outcomes of race categorization have been studied in detail, the temporal dynamics of real-time processing of race remain elusive. We measured participants' hand movements en route to one of two race-category alternatives by recording the streaming x, y coordinates of the computer mouse. Study 1 showed that, when categorizing White and Black computer-generated faces that featurally overlapped with the opposite race, mouse trajectories showed a continuous spatial attraction toward the opposite category. Moreover, these race-atypical White and Black targets induced spatial attraction effects that had different temporal signatures. Study 2 showed that, when categorizing real faces that varied along a continuum of racial ambiguity, graded increases in ambiguity led to corresponding increases in trajectories' attraction to the opposite category and trajectories' movement complexity. These studies provide evidence for temporally dynamic competition across perceptions of race, where simultaneously and partially-active race categories continuously evolve into single categorical outcomes over time. Moreover, the findings show how different social category cues may exert different dynamic patterns of influence over the real-time processing that culminates in categorizations of others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)179-185
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010


  • Face processing
  • Motor processes
  • Person construal
  • Race
  • Social categorization
  • Temporal dynamics
  • Visual perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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