Processing of Task-Irrelevant Race Information is Associated with Diminished Cognitive Control in Black and White Individuals

Estée Rubien-Thomas, Nia Berrian, Alessandra Cervera, Binyam Nardos, Alexandra O. Cohen, Ariel Lowrey, Natalie M. Daumeyer, Nicholas P. Camp, Brent L. Hughes, Jennifer L. Eberhardt, Kim A. Taylor-Thompson, Damien A. Fair, Jennifer A. Richeson, B. J. Casey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The race of an individual is a salient physical feature that is rapidly processed by the brain and can bias our perceptions of others. How the race of others explicitly impacts our actions toward them during intergroup contexts is not well understood. In the current study, we examined how task-irrelevant race information influences cognitive control in a go/no-go task in a community sample of Black (n = 54) and White (n = 51) participants. We examined the neural correlates of behavioral effects using functional magnetic resonance imaging and explored the influence of implicit racial attitudes on brain-behavior associations. Both Black and White participants showed more cognitive control failures, as indexed by dprime, to Black versus White faces, despite the irrelevance of race to the task demands. This behavioral pattern was paralleled by greater activity to Black faces in the fusiform face area, implicated in processing face and in-group information, and lateral orbitofrontal cortex, associated with resolving stimulus-response conflict. Exploratory brain-behavior associations suggest different patterns in Black and White individuals. Black participants exhibited a negative association between fusiform activity and response time during impulsive errors to Black faces, whereas White participants showed a positive association between lateral OFC activity and cognitive control performance to Black faces when accounting for implicit racial associations. Together our findings propose that attention to race information is associated with diminished cognitive control that may be driven by different mechanisms for Black and White individuals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)625-638
Number of pages14
JournalCognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported in part by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships (E.R.-T.) and a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to Vanderbilt University. Its contents reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of either the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation or the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience ( ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • Attention
  • Cognitive control
  • Face perception
  • Implicit bias
  • Race
  • fMRI

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.


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