Identifying familiar faces is a fundamentally important aspect of social perception that requires the ability to assign very different (ambient) images of a face to a common identity. The current consensus is that the brain processes face identity at approximately 250-300ms following stimulus onset, as indexed by the N250 event related potential. However, using two experiments we show compelling evidence that where experimental paradigms induce expectations about person identity, changes in famous face identity are in fact detected at an earlier latency corresponding to the face-sensitive N170. In Experiment 1, using a rapid periodic stimulation paradigm presenting highly variable ambient images, we demonstrate robust effects of low frequency, periodic face-identity changes in N170 amplitude. In Experiment 2, we added infrequent aperiodic identity changes to show that the N170 was larger to both infrequent periodic and infrequent aperiodic identity changes than to high frequency identities. Our use of ambient stimulus images makes it unlikely that these effects are due to adaptation of low-level stimulus features. In line with current ideas about predictive coding, we therefore suggest that when expectations about the identity of a face exist, the visual system is capable of detecting identity mismatches at a latency consistent with the N170.
- Face identity
- Predictive coding