Scarcity Disrupts the Neural Encoding of Black Faces: A Socioperceptual Pathway to Discrimination

Amy R. Krosch, David M. Amodio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When economic resources are scarce, racial minorities are often devalued and disenfranchised. We proposed that this pattern extends to visual processing, such that the encoding of minority group faces is disrupted under scarcity—an effect that may facilitate discrimination and contribute to racial disparities. Specifically, we used EEG and fMRI to test whether scarce economic conditions induce deficits in neural encoding of Black faces, and we examined whether this effect is associated with discriminatory resource allocation in behavior. In Study 1, framing resources as scarce (vs. neutral) selectively impaired the neural encoding of Black (vs. White) faces, as indexed by a delayed face-related N170 ERP response, and the degree of this encoding deficit predicted anti-Black allocation decisions. In Study 2, we replicated and extended this effect using fMRI: Resources framed as scarce (vs. neutral) reduced face-sensitive fusiform activity to Black (vs. White) faces. Furthermore, scarcity-decreased fusiform activity to Black faces corresponded with decreased valuation-related striatum activity to predict anti-Black allocation decisions. These findings suggest that impaired visual processing and devaluation occur selectively for minorities under scarcity—an implicit effect that may promote discrimination and contribute to rising disparities observed during economic stress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)859-875
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2019


  • N170
  • fMRI
  • face perception
  • prejudice
  • race
  • scarcity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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