Recognizing famous faces and famous buildings: An ERP-analysis of repetition priming

Engst, F. M.1, Sommer, W.1, and Martin-Loeches, M.2
1Institut für Psychologie, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany; 2Center for Human Evolution and Behaviour, Universidad Complutense-Instituto de Salud Carlos III, Madrid, Spain

Repetition priming for faces or names of persons induces an early repetition effect (ERE) in the ERP around 250-300 ms. Because the ERE is domain-specific and is more pronounced for famous than for unfamiliar persons, it is interpreted as reflecting the access to stored representations of faces (face recognition units, FRU) and names (Pfütze, Sommer, & Schweinberger, 2002). In order to assess the category-specificity of the ERE we compared faces and buildings, which could be either famous or unfamiliar, in a prime-target-paradigm. For all subjects individual sets of 64 pictures of each, famous faces and famous buildings, were selected and mixed with the same number of unfamiliar stimuli. Effects of pictorial codes on the ERE were attenuated by a patterned mask between prime and target. Subjects had to perform a familiarity-decision task. EEG was recorded from 64 channels.

Analysis concerned the different categories (buildings and faces) and the level of specificity (famous and unfamiliar). Reaction times revealed a reliable priming effect for both categories. Results showed very distinctive EREs. They were much larger for famous than for unfamiliar faces. The EREs of buildings appeared later and indicated differences in the level of specificity too, but not to the same extent as seen for faces. Topographic comparisons suggest the involvement of category- and familiarity-specific brain systems.

Pfütze, E.-M., Sommer, W., & Schweinberger, S.R. (2002). Age-Related Slowing in Face and Name Recognition: Evidence From Event-Related Brain Potentials. Psychology and Aging, 17, 140-160.