Directed-forgetting in a Facial Recognition Task: Costs and Benefits with Same-Race & Cross-Race Groups

by Amber Moffatt

Directed forgetting is the ability to intentionally set aside irrelevant information in order to maximize cognitive capabilities in accessing and learning new information. The purpose of the present study was to further examine the directed-forgetting paradigm to determine if both cost and benefits found by Fitzgerald, Fawcett & Taylor (2013) would be observed using same-race (white) and cross-race (black) faces. Undergraduate students, (N=138) from Brandon University, majority Caucasian, were randomly assigned into either a directed forgetting condition, where they viewed both remember-and forget-cued faces, or one of two control condition, where they viewed only remember-cued faces. Participants were exposed to either white or black faces of the same sex, in order to control for own-sex basis. Participants’ discrimination accuracy was measured using an old/new facial recognition task, where they had to differentiate between old (faces seen in study phase) or new (faces never seen before). The results indicated that participants showed greater discrimination accuracy for remember-cued faces compared to forget-cued faces, demonstrating an overall directed-forgetting effect. In addition, the current study aimed to test the cross-race hypothesis, that same-race faces would show a stronger directed-forgetting effect compared to cross-race faces. The results did support this claim and demonstrated that same-race remember-cued faces had greater discrimination accuracy compared to cross-race remember-cued faces. Moreover, using control groups proposed by Murther (1965) this study provided further validation for costs and benefits of directed­ forgetting. The data illustrated both a cost and benefit of same-race faces. It is possible that cross-race faces did not show either costs or benefits due to the low discrimination accuracy of black faces or due to a low over-all directed forgetting effect. The findings of the current study contribute to literature that suggests eyewitness testimonies are an inconsistent measure of facial recognition and should be taken with a degree of caution, especially for cross-race faces.