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Clin Neurophysiol. 2003 Mar;114(3):515-28.

Face versus non-face object perception and the 'other-race' effect: a spatio-temporal event-related potential study.

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Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences. University of Geneva, 40 boulevard du Pont d'Arve, 1211 Geneva 4, Switzerland.



To investigate a modulation of the N170 face-sensitive component related to the perception of other-race (OR) and same-race (SR) faces, as well as differences in face and non-face object processing, by combining different methods of event-related potential (ERP) signal analysis.


Sixty-two channel ERPs were recorded in 12 Caucasian subjects presented with Caucasian and Asian faces along with non-face objects. Surface data were submitted to classical waveforms and ERP map topography analysis. Underlying brain sources were estimated with two inverse solutions (BESA and LORETA).


The N170 face component was identical for both race faces. This component and its topography revealed a face specific pattern regardless of race. However, in this time period OR faces evoked significantly stronger medial occipital activity than SR faces. Moreover, in terms of maps, at around 170 ms face-specific activity significantly preceded non-face object activity by 25 ms. These ERP maps were followed by similar activation patterns across conditions around 190-300 ms, most likely reflecting the activation of visually derived semantic information.


The N170 was not sensitive to the race of the faces. However, a possible pre-attentive process associated to the relatively stronger unfamiliarity for OR faces was found in medial occipital area. Moreover, our data provide further information on the time-course of face and non-face object processing.

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