The N170: Understanding the Time Course of Face Perception in the Human Brain

Bruno Rossion and Corentin Jacques

in The Oxford Handbook of Event-Related Potential Components

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780195374148
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

 The N170: Understanding the Time Course of Face Perception in the Human Brain

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  • Psychology
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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This chapter reviews the contribution of electromagnetic measures, mostly event-related potentials (ERPs), to our understanding of the time course of face processing in the normal adult brain, with a focus on the 100–200 ms time window after stimulus onset, that is, during the occipitotemporal component termed the N170. It first describes the N170 component, how it can be defined, and its relationship to the vertex positive potential (VPP) response to faces that was reported prior to the N170 in the literature. It then addresses the question of the origin of the largest N170 to faces in terms of electroencephalographic (EEG) signal, neural sources, and functional processes that lead to this effect. It also discusses the controversial issue of whether the N170 reflects underlying processes that can be at least partly recruited for processing nonface objects following extensive visual experience with these objects. The chapter summarizes the evidence showing that the N170 reflects both the initial basic-level categorization of the stimulus as a face through the activation of neural face representations and the coding of individual face representations. It then briefly discusses why the N170 may be a critical time window for other types of face categorizations before summarizing the chapter and addressing the question of how the N170 can be taken as a tool to clarify the dynamics and the nature of early face processes in future research.

Keywords: event-related potential; N170; face perception; perceptual processing; occipito-temporal component

Article.  18631 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Cognitive Psychology ; Cognitive Neuroscience

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