Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Modulation of Facial Processing by Identity Information in a Face Similarity Evaluation Task

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Modulation of Facial Processing by Identity Information in a Face Similarity Evaluation Task

Article excerpt

Faces are one of the most important physical attributes used for visual identification in social interaction. In innumerable studies researchers have shown that human social interaction substantially affects facial recognition (Miellet & Caldara, 2010; Weigelt, Koldewyn, & Kanwisher, 2012). Similarly, researchers have suggested that contextual cues can have substantial effects on how facial stimuli are processed (Matsumoto & Sung Hwang, 2010; Wieser & Brosch, 2012). In the past decade, contextual effects have been examined with respect to a variety of environmental cues, such as appearance and social category (Feldman Barrett & Kensinger, 2010). Along these lines, neuroscientific methods have been used to further investigate the underlying neural mechanisms of environmental cues on face perception (Freeman, Ambady, & Holcomb, 2010). For example, it has repeatedly been shown in research that the N170 (a negative wave peaking almost 170 ms after presentation) to faces is significantly modulated by environmental factors (Wieser & Brosch, 2012). Scholars have suggested that the N170 reflects structural encoding that occurs in early visual processing (Keyes, Brady, Reilly, & Foxe, 2010). This is consistent with the finding in research demonstrating that contexts exert a top-down influence on early facial processing (Freeman et al., 2013).

It is of note that in most studies investigating contextual influences on facial processing researchers have used paradigms whereby the preceding context was presented simultaneously with the face during each trial (Diéguez-Risco, Aguado, Albert, & Hinojosa, 2013). In these paradigms, the context cues were visual stimuli rather than the contextual information. There is substantial evidence to show that the N170 interacts with the linguistic forms (Lin et al., 2011; Okumura, Kasai, & Murohashi, 2014) or graphic symbols (Righart & de Gelder, 2006). In spite of these advances in facial processing research, the question remains whether the waves were evoked by directly altering underlying sentence meaning rather than by context modulation. Thus, our goal in the current research was to investigate what would occur when the definition of task was altered. In other words, we sought to use a long-standing context instead of the flash one.

For almost a century, psychologists have been investigating the universal properties of human facial evaluation (Santini & Jain, 1996), such as the now widely known finding on couple resemblance. In this research several explanations have been provided for the couple resemblance phenomenon, including the contact hypothesis (Pettigrew, 1998), the matching hypothesis (Little, Burt, & Perrett, 2006; Zajonc, Adelmann, Murphy, & Niendenthal, 1987), and the genetic similarity theory (Rushton, 1989). Regardless of theoretical disputes over why couple resemblance exists, it is a widespread belief that many long-married couples look alike. As such, in the current research we designed a similarity evaluation experiment in the name of couple resemblance.

To address this question, we employed event-related potentials (ERPs) to investigate the time course of the identity information in evaluating face similarity. Specifically, we were interested in the extent to which context affects different stages of processing in individuals' perception of couple facial similarity. In previous neurophysiological studies researchers have shown that the face-specific N170 is sensitive to the task (Caharel, 2013; Vakli et al., 2014). In addition, we expected that context would also influence variations in later ERP components. In order to ensure that ERP components were not being evoked by the accompanying written explanation, we diverged from the method used in previous research by presenting visual instructions at the beginning of each block, rather than presenting each photograph accompanied by a sentence (Schwarz, Wieser, Gerdes, Mühlberger, & Pauli, 2013). …

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