Looking at faces from different angles: Europeans fixate different features in Asian and Caucasian faces

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Race categorization of faces is a fast and automatic process and is known to affect further face processing profoundly and at earliest stages. Whether processing of own- and other-race faces might rely on different facial cues, as indicated by diverging viewing behavior, is much under debate. We therefore aimed to investigate two open questions in our study: (1) Do observers consider information from distinct facial features informative for race categorization or do they prefer to gain global face information by fixating the geometrical center of the face? (2) Does the fixation pattern, or, if facial features are considered relevant, do these features differ between own- and other-race faces? We used eye tracking to test where European observers look when viewing Asian and Caucasian faces in a race categorization task. Importantly, in order to disentangle centrally located fixations from those towards individual facial features, we presented faces in frontal, half-profile and profile views. We found that observers showed no general bias towards looking at the geometrical center of faces, but rather directed their first fixations towards distinct facial features, regardless of face race. However, participants looked at the eyes more often in Caucasian faces than in Asian faces, and there were significantly more fixations to the nose for Asian compared to Caucasian faces. Thus, observers rely on information from distinct facial features rather than facial information gained by centrally fixating the face. To what extent specific features are looked at is determined by the face's race.

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