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J Vis. 2010 Jan 29;10(1):15.1-23. doi: 10.1167/10.1.15.

Inverting faces elicits sensitivity to race on the N170 component: a cross-cultural study.

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Department of Psychology and Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging (CCNi), University of Glasgow, United Kingdom.


Human beings are natural experts at processing faces, with some notable exceptions. Same-race faces are better recognized than other-race faces: the so-called other-race effect (ORE). Inverting faces impairs recognition more than for any other inverted visual object: the so-called face inversion effect (FIE). Interestingly, the FIE is stronger for same- compared to other-race faces. At the electrophysiological level, inverted faces elicit consistently delayed and often larger N170 compared to upright faces. However, whether the N170 component is sensitive to race is still a matter of ongoing debate. Here we investigated the N170 sensitivity to race in the framework of the FIE. We recorded EEG from Western Caucasian and East Asian observers while presented with Western Caucasian, East Asian and African American faces in upright and inverted orientations. To control for potential confounds in the EEG signal that might be evoked by the intrinsic and salient differences in the low-level properties of faces from different races, we normalized their amplitude-spectra, luminance and contrast. No differences on the N170 were observed for upright faces. Critically, inverted same-race faces lead to greater recognition impairment and elicited larger N170 amplitudes compared to inverted other-race faces. Our results indicate a finer-grained neural tuning for same-race faces at early stages of processing in both groups of observers.

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