Dynamic representations of race: Processing goals shape race decoding in the Fusiform gyri

Christian Kaul, Kyle G. Ratner, Jay J. Van Bavel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


People perceive and evaluate others on the basis of social categories, such as race, gender and age. Initial processing of targets in terms of visually salient social categories is often characterized as inevitable. In the current study, we investigated the influence of processing goals on the representation of race in the visual processing stream. Participants were assigned to one of two mixed-race teams and categorized faces according to their group membership or skin color. To assess neural representations of race, we employed multivariate pattern analysis to examined neural activity related to the presentation of Black and White faces. As predicted, patterns of neural activity within the early visual cortex and fusiform gyri (FG) could decode the race of face stimuli above chance and were moderated by processing goals. Race decoding in early visual cortex was above chance in both categorization tasks and below chance in a prefrontal control region. More importantly, race decoding was greater in the FG during the group membership vs skin color categorization task. The results suggest that, ironically, explicit racial categorization can diminish the representation of race in the FG. These findings suggest that representations of race are dynamic, reflecting current processing goals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbernss138
Pages (from-to)326-332
Number of pages7
JournalSocial cognitive and affective neuroscience
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2014


  • Face perception
  • Fusiform gyri
  • Goals
  • Multivariate pattern analysis
  • Race
  • Top-down

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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