Dissociated neural mechanisms for face detection and configural encoding: evidence from N170 and induced gamma-band oscillation effects

Cereb Cortex. 2007 Aug;17(8):1741-9. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhl100. Epub 2006 Oct 24.


Despite ample research, the structure and the functional characteristics of neural systems involved in human face processing are still a matter of active debate. Here we dissociated between a neural mechanism manifested by the face-sensitive N170 event-related potential effect and a mechanism manifested by induced electroencephalographic oscillations in the gamma band, which have been previously associated with the integration of individually coded features and activation of corresponding neural representations. The amplitude of the N170 was larger in the absence of the face contour but not affected by the configuration of inner components (ICs). Its latency was delayed by scrambling the configuration of the components as well as by the absence of the face contour. Unlike the N170, the amplitude of the induced gamma activity was sensitive to the configuration of ICs but insensitive to their presence within or outside a face contour. This pattern suggests a dual mechanism for early face processing, each utilizing different visual cues, which might indicate their respective roles in face processing. The N170 seems to be associated primarily with the detection and categorization of faces, whereas the gamma oscillations may be involved in the activation of their mental representation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Electroencephalography*
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Face*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology*