Look out for strangers! Sustained neural activity during visual working memory maintenance of other-race faces is modulated by implicit racial prejudice

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Abstract

We tested the ability of white participants to encode and retain over a brief period of time information about the identity of white and black people, using faces as stimuli in a standard change detection task and tracking neural activity using electroencephalography. Neural responses recorded over the posterior parietal cortex reflecting visual working memory activity increased in amplitude as a function of the number of faces that had to be maintained in memory. Critically, these memory-related neural responses varied as a function of participants’ implicit racial prejudice toward black people. High-prejudiced participants encoded black people faces with a lower degree of precision compared to low-prejudiced participants, suggesting that the class of mental operations affected by implicit racial prejudice includes basic cognitive mechanisms underpinning the encoding and maintenance of faces’ visual representations in visual working memory.

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