Research on person categorization suggests that people automatically and inflexibly categorize others according to group memberships, such as race. Consistent with this view, research using electroencephalography (EEG) has found that White participants tend to show an early difference in processing Black versus White faces. Yet, new research has shown that these ostensibly automatic biases may not be as inevitable as once thought and that motivational influences may be able to eliminate these biases. It is unclear, however, whether motivational influences shape the initial biases or whether these biases can only be modulated by later, controlled processes. Using EEG to examine the time course of biased processing, we manipulated approach and avoidance motivational states by having participants pull or push a joystick, respectively, while viewing White or Black faces. Consistent with previous work on own-race bias, we observed a greater P100 response to White than Black faces; however, this racial bias was attenuated in the approach condition. These data suggest that rapid social perception may be flexible and can be modulated by motivational states.
Keywords: race, ERP, P100, social perception, face perception, motivation, approach
Citation: Cunningham WA, Van Bavel JJ, Arbuckle NL, Packer DJ and Waggoner AS (2012) Rapid social perception is flexible: approach and avoidance motivational states shape P100 responses to other-race faces. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 6:140. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00140
Received: 30 December 2011; Accepted: 30 April 2012;
Published online: 24 May 2012.
Edited by:Chad E. Forbes, University of Delaware, USA
Reviewed by:Jonathan Freeman, Tufts University, USA
Copyright: © 2012 Cunningham, Van Bavel, Arbuckle, Packer and Waggoner. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial License, which permits non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited.
*Correspondence: William A. Cunningham, Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, 100 St. George Street, Toronto, ON M5S 3G3, Canada. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org