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Electrophysiological correlates of the composite face illusion: disentangling perceptual and decisional components of holistic face processing in the human brain

Electrophysiological correlates of the composite face illusion: disentangling perceptual and decisional components of holistic face processing in the human brain

Authors: 
Kuefner D., Jacques C., Prieto E.A. & Rossion B.
Year: 
2010
Journal: 
Brain and Cognition
Abstract: 

When the bottom halves of two faces differ, people's behavioral judgment of the identical top halves of those faces is impaired: they report that the top halves are different, and/or take more time than usual to provide a response. This behavioral measure is known as the composite face effect (CFE) and has traditionally been taken as evidence that faces are perceived holistically. Recently, however, it has been claimed that this effect is driven almost entirely by decisional, rather than perceptual, factors (Richler, Gauthier, Wenger, & Palmeri, 2008). To disentangle the contribution of perceptual and decisional brain processes, we aimed to obtain an event-related potential (ERP) measure of the CFE at a stage of face encoding (Jacques & Rossion, 2009) in the absence of a behavioral CFE effect. Sixteen participants performed a go/no-go task in an oddball paradigm, lifting a finger of their right or left hand when the top half of a face changed identity. This change of identity of the top of the face was associated with an increased ERP signal on occipito-temporal electrode sites at the N170 face-sensitive component (∼160 ms), the later decisional P3b component, and the lateralized readiness potential (LRP) starting at ∼350 ms. The N170 effect was observed equally early when only the unattended bottom part of the face changed, indicating that an identity change was perceived across the whole face in this condition. Importantly, there was no behavioral response bias for the bottom change trials, and no evidence of decisional biases from electrophysiological data (no P3b and LRP deflection in no-go trials). These data show that an early CFE can be measured in ERPs in the absence of any decisional response bias, indicating that the CFE reflects primarily the visual perception of the whole face.

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