Category-sensitivity in the N170 range: a question of topography and inversion, not one of amplitude.Neuropsychologia. 2011 Jun; 49(7):2082-9.N
Event-related potential studies have identified the N170 as the key neurophysiological marker of human face processing. This functional association relies on the observation of a larger N170 amplitude to faces than items from all other visual object categories. However, N170 amplitude is modulated by stimulus variations like viewpoint, size and symmetry, and studies comparing similarly sized and symmetric full-front faces and other objects have failed to find amplitude differences. Here we tested whether the effect of inversion - an increase in N170 amplitude seen for faces presented upside down - is similarly observed for full-front views of cars. Participants discriminated pictures of faces and cars, which were presented upright and inverted, and either in full-front view or varying in size, orientation and viewpoint. For upright stimuli, the N170 was stronger for faces than cars at some electrode sites, but of comparable amplitude at others, as shown by topographical differences. The N170 for inverted faces and cars was delayed, with a stronger delay for faces than cars. Inversion increased N170 amplitude for faces, while modulations for full-front view cars were non-significant or N170 amplitude was reduced. These results further limit the widely acknowledged principle of an association between N170 and visual object categorization. Potential face-sensitivity in the N170 range may therefore rely on topographic differences and effects of inversion, rather than amplitude differences.