We examined the relation between neural activity reflecting early face perception processes and automatic and controlled responses to race. Participants completed a sequential evaluative priming task, in which two-tone images of Black faces, White faces, and cars appeared as primes, followed by target words categorized as pleasant or unpleasant, while encephalography was recorded. Half of these participants were alerted that the task assessed racial prejudice and could reveal their personal bias (“alerted” condition). To assess face perception processes, the N170 component of the ERP was examined. For all participants, stronger automatic pro-White bias was associated with larger N170 amplitudes to Black than White faces. For participants in the alerted condition only, larger N170 amplitudes to Black versus White faces were also associated with less controlled processing on the word categorization task. These findings suggest that preexisting racial attitudes affect early face processing and that situational factors moderate the link between early face processing and behavior.

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