Event-related potentials offer evidence for face distinctive neural activity that peaks at about 170 ms following the onset of face stimuli (the N170 effect). We investigated the role of the perceptual mechanism reflected by the N170 effect by comparing the adaptation of the N170 amplitude when target faces were preceded either by identical face images or by different faces relative to when they were preceded by objects. In two experiments, we demonstrate that the N170 is equally adapted by repetition of the same or different faces. Thus, our findings show that the N170 is sensitive to the category rather than the identity of a face. This outcome supports the hypothesis that the N170 effect reflects the activity of a perceptual mechanism which discriminates faces from objects and streams face stimuli to dedicated circuits, specialized in encoding and decoding information about the face.
Neural adaptation is related to face repetition irrespective of identity: a reappraisal of the N170 effect
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