★ We explored perceptual sources of the other-race advantage in race classification. ★ Isolated eyes and faces without eyes were accurately classified as Asian or Israelis. ★ Classification of full faces was more accurate but all stimuli induced similar ORA. ★ Configural distortion of inner components delayed classification of own-race faces. ★ ORA is partially explained by default face individuation processing of own-race faces.
We explored perceptual factors that might account for the other-race classification advantage (ORCA) in classifying faces by race. Testing Chinese participants in China and Israeli participants in Israel we show that: (a) The distinction between Chinese and Israeli faces is highly accurate even on the basis of isolated eyes or faces with eyes concealed, but full faces are categorized faster. (b) The ORCA is similarly robust for full faces and for face parts. (c) The ORCA was larger when the configuration of the inner-face components was distorted, reflecting delayed categorization of own-race distorted faces relative to own-race normally configured faces but no conspicuous distortion effect on other-race faces. These data demonstrate that perceptual factors can account for the ORCA independently of social bias. We suggest that one source of the ORCA in race categorization is the configural analysis applied by default while processing own-race but not other-race faces.