N250r and N400 ERP correlates of immediate famous face repetition are independent of perceptual load.Brain Res. 2008 Nov 06; 1239:181-90.BR
It is a matter of considerable debate whether attention to initial stimulus presentations is required for repetition-related neural modulations to occur. Recently, it has been assumed that faces are particularly hard to ignore, and can capture attention in a reflexive manner. In line with this idea, electrophysiological evidence for long-term repetition effects of unattended famous faces has been reported. The present study investigated influences of attention to prime faces on short-term repetition effects in event-related potentials (ERPs). We manipulated attention to short (200 ms) prime presentations (S1) of task-irrelevant famous faces according to Lavie's Perceptual Load Theory. Participants attended to letter strings superimposed on face images, and identified target letters "X" vs. "N" embedded in strings of either 6 different (high load) or 6 identical (low load) letters. Letter identification was followed by probe presentations (S2), which were either repetitions of S1 faces, new famous faces, or infrequent butterflies, to which participants responded. Our ERP data revealed repetition effects in terms of an N250r at occipito-temporal regions, suggesting priming of face identification processes, and in terms of an N400 at the vertex, suggesting semantic priming. Crucially, the magnitude of these effects was unaffected by perceptual load at S1 presentation. This indicates that task-irrelevant face processing is remarkably preserved even in a demanding letter detection task, supporting recent notions of face-specific attentional resources.