S. Caharel, N. Fiori, C. Bernard
Oct 1, 2006
International journal of psychophysiology : official journal of the International Organization of Psychophysiology
OBJECTIVES The objective of this study is to examine whether configural alterations of faces affect early or late processing stages as a function of their familiarity and their level of representation in memory. We then sought to verify whether the structural encoding stage is susceptible to top-down influences. METHODS Electrophysiologic and behavioral studies were undertaken, during which unknown and familiar faces were presented upright or upside-down with or without feature alterations. The subjects were asked to determine whether the faces were familiar or not. RESULTS N170 and N360 amplitudes were larger for familiar faces as well as altered ones. A higher degree of familiarity decreased reaction times (RTs) and N360 latencies, but increased N170 latencies, whereas face alterations increased RTs and latencies of both components examined. However, familiarity interacted with altered face configurations only for RTs and the N170. SIGNIFICANCE In the perceptual stage, familiar faces seem to develop a more elaborate type of processing because of top-down influences linked to the robust nature of their representations in memory. The more elaborate type of processing for familiar faces has advantageous consequences for the following steps of information processing, by facilitating access to structural representations in memory (N360) as well as the final step reflected by RTs. The fact that configural alterations cause different effects for familiar as opposed to unfamiliar faces indicate that these stimuli are processed in a qualitatively different manner and solicit different representations in memory.