Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Knowledge Scale Effects in Face Recognition: An Electrophysiological Investigation

Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Knowledge Scale Effects in Face Recognition: An Electrophysiological Investigation

Article excerpt

Abstract Although the amount or scale of biographical knowledge held in store about a person may differ widely, little is known about whether and how these differences may affect the retrieval processes triggered by the person's face. In a learning paradigm, we manipulated the scale of biographical knowledge while controlling for a common set of minimal knowledge and perceptual experience with the faces. A few days after learning, and again after 6 months, knowledge effects were assessed in three tasks, none of which concerned the additional knowledge. Whereas the performance effects of additional knowledge were small, event-related brain potentials recorded during testing showed amplitude modulations in the time range of the N400 component-indicative of knowledge access-but also at a much earlier latency in the P100 component- reflecting early stages of visual analysis. However, no effects were found in the N170 component, which is taken to reflect structural analyses of faces. The present findings replicate knowledge scale effects in object recognition and suggest that enhanced knowledge affects both early visual processes and the later processes associated with semantic processing, even when this knowledge is not task-relevant.

Keywords Face processing . Biographical knowledge . ERPs

A familiar person's face is a cue for the retrieval of a rich set of stored knowledge. The face allows access to whatever information we have about biographical facts concerning this person, as well as to her or his name. Although the amount or scale of knowledge held in store about a person may differ widely, little is known about whether and how these differences may affect the retrieval processes triggered by the person's face. Using a learning paradigm, in the present study we investigated how face perception and person recognition are affected by the scale of the biographical knowledge available about a person. Learning included a common set of minimal knowledge for all faces and an additional manipulation of the scale of biographical knowledge, while carefully controlling for perceptual experience. In two test sessions-a few days and several months after learning-we investigated the short- and long-term effects of knowledge scale on face processing with event-related brain potentials (ERPs).

Previous research on knowledge scale effects in faces has been scant and has given only indirect clues as to the present question. The largest body of research has concerned differences between familiar and unfamiliar faces (e.g., Bentin & Deouell, 2000a, b; Eimer, 2000; Leveroni et al., 2000; Nessler, Mecklinger, & Penney, 2005; for a review, see Johnston & Edmonds, 2009). Although numerous differential effects of these types of faces have been shown, they may be attributed to differences at several levels of the face processing system. Most importantly, familiar faces differ from unfamiliar faces not only in the availability of biographical knowledge, but also in the presence of stored view-independent structural representations, so-called face recognition units (FRUs; see, e.g., Bruce & Young, 1986). All current models of face cognition assume that access to FRUs precedes access to biographical and name knowledge. Therefore, it is difficult to address the question of biographical knowledge scale effects when perceptual knowledge differs as well, as is the case for familiar versus unfamiliar faces.

There is some evidence for differences between personally known and famous faces from the public domain (Herzmann, Schweinberger, Sommer, & Jentzsch, 2004; Kloth et al., 2006). Although one might assume that more semantic knowledge is available about personally known persons than about celebrities, this may not always be the case and is hard to verify. Thus, faces of personally familiar persons may be seen more often than famous faces, and the perceptual experience may be richer, in that the visual experience with personally familiar faces includes different perspectives, facial expressions, and movements, rather than static portraits. …

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