Event-related potentials reveal the development of stable face representations from natural variability

Sally Andrews, A. Mike Burton, Stefan R. Schweinberger, Holger Wiese*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)
40 Downloads (Pure)


Natural variability between instances of unfamiliar faces can make it difficult to reconcile two images as the same person. Yet for familiar faces, effortless recognition occurs even with considerable variability between images. To explore how stable face representations develop, we employed incidental learning in the form of a face sorting task. In each trial, multiple images of two facial identities were sorted into two corresponding piles. Following the sort, participants showed evidence of having learnt the faces performing more accurately on a matching task with seen than with unseen identities. Furthermore, ventral temporal event-related potentials were more negative in the N250 time range for previously seen than for previously unseen identities. These effects appear to demonstrate some degree of abstraction, rather than simple picture learning, as the neurophysiological and behavioural effects were observed with novel images of the previously seen identities. The results provide evidence of the development of facial representations, allowing a window onto natural mechanisms of face learning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1620-1632
Number of pages13
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 3 Aug 2017
Externally publishedYes


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