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When is a Face a Face? Schematic Faces, Emotion, Attention and the N170

1. College of Life and Health Sciences, University of Derby, DE22 1GB, UK;
2. Psychology, Faculty of Social, Human and Mathematical Sciences & Clinical and Experimental Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton, Southampton, United Kingdom;
3. Cognitive Neuroscience & Psychiatry, Developmental Neuroscience, UCL Institute of Child Health and North Central London School of Anaesthesia;
4. School of Psychology, University of Exeter, EX4 4QG, UK

Topical Section: Emotion Comprehension and Expression: Advances in Theoretical Formulations

Emotional facial expressions provide important non-verbal cues as to the imminent behavioural intentions of a second party. Hence, within emotion science the processing of faces (emotional or otherwise) has been at the forefront of research. Notably, however, such research has led to a number of debates including the ecological validity of utilising schematic faces in emotion research, and the face-selectively of N170. In order to investigate these issues, we explored the extent to which N170 is modulated by schematic faces, emotional expression and/or selective attention. Eighteen participants completed a three-stimulus oddball paradigm with two scrambled faces as the target and standard stimuli (counter-balanced across participants), and schematic angry, happy and neutral faces as the oddball stimuli. Results revealed that the magnitude of the N170 associated with the target stimulus was: (i) significantly greater than that elicited by the standard stimulus, (ii) comparable with the N170 elicited by the neutral and happy schematic face stimuli, and (iii) significantly reduced compared to the N170 elicited by the angry schematic face stimulus. These findings extend current literature by demonstrating N170 can be modulated by events other than those associated with structural face encoding; i.e. here, the act of labelling a stimulus a ‘target’ to attend to modulated the N170 response. Additionally, the observation that schematic faces demonstrate similar N170 responses to those recorded for real faces and, akin to real faces, angry schematic faces demonstrated heightened N170 responses, suggests caution should be taken before disregarding schematic facial stimuli in emotion processing research per se.
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Copyright Info: © 2015, Frances A. Maratos, et al., licensee AIMS Press. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Licese (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)

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