Perceptual interference supports a non-modular account of face processing

Nat Neurosci. 2003 Apr;6(4):428-32. doi: 10.1038/nn1029.


The perception of faces and of nonface objects share common early visual processing stages. Some argue, however, that the brain eventually processes faces separately from other objects, within a domain-specific module dedicated to face perception. This apparent specialization for faces could, alternatively, result from people's expertise with this category of stimuli. Here we used behavioral and electrophysiological measures of interference to address the functional independence of face and object processing. If the expert processing of faces and cars depend on common mechanisms related to holistic perception (obligatory processing of all parts), then for human subjects who are presumed to be face experts, car perception should interfere with concurrent face perception. Furthermore, such interference should increase with greater expertise in car identification, and indeed this is what we found. Event-related potentials (ERPs) suggest that this interference arose from perceptual processes contributing to the holistic processing of both objects of expertise and faces.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / anatomy & histology
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Visual Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*
  • Visual Fields / physiology
  • Visual Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Visual Pathways / physiology*