How do our brains respond when we are being watched by a group of people?Despite the large volume of literature devoted to face processing, this question has received very little attention. Here we measured the effects on the face-sensitive N170 and other ERPs to viewing displays of one, two and three faces in two experiments. In Experiment 1, overall image brightness and contrast were adjusted to be constant, whereas in Experiment 2 local contrast and brightness of individual faces were not manipulated. A robust positive-negative-positive (P100-N170-P250) ERP complex and an additional late positive ERP, the P400, were elicited to all stimulus types. As the number of faces in the display increased, N170 amplitude increased for both stimulus sets, and latency increased in Experiment 2. P100 latency and P250 amplitude were affected by changes in overall brightness and contrast, but not by the number of faces in the display per se. In Experiment 1 when overall brightness and contrast were adjusted to be constant, later ERP (P250 and P400) latencies showed differences as a function of hemisphere. Hence, our data indicate that N170 increases its magnitude when multiple faces are seen, apparently impervious to basic low-level stimulus features including stimulus size. Outstanding questions remain regarding category-sensitive neural activity that is elicited to viewing multiple items of stimulus categories other than faces.
Keywords: ERPs; N170; P100; P250; brightness; contrast; faces; multiple faces.