Personal familiarity of faces, animals, objects, and scenes: Distinct perceptual and overlapping conceptual representations

Holger Wiese*, Maya Schipper, Tsvetomila Popova, A. M. Burton, Andrew W. Young

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

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While face, object, and scene recognition are often studied at a basic categorization level (e.g. “a face”, “a car”, “a kitchen”), we frequently recognise individual items of these categories as unique entities (e.g. “my mother”, “my car”, “my kitchen”). This recognition of individual identity is essential to appropriate behaviour in our world. However, relatively little is known about how we recognise individually familiar visual stimuli. Using event- related brain potentials, the present study examined whether and to what extent the underlying neural repre- sentations of personally familiar items are similar or different across different categories. In three experiments, we examined the recognition of personally highly familiar faces, animals, indoor scenes, and objects. We observed relatively distinct familiarity effects in an early time window (200-400 ms), with a clearly right- lateralized occipito-temporal scalp distribution for human faces and more bilateral and posterior distributions for other stimulus categories, presumably reflecting access to at least partly discrete visual long-term repre- sentations. In contrast, we found clearly overlapping familiarity effects in a later time window (starting 400 to 500 ms after stimulus onset), again with a mainly right occipito-temporal scalp distribution, for all stimulus categories. These later effects appear to reflect the sustained activation of conceptual properties relevant to any potential interaction. We conclude that familiarity for items from the various visual stimulus categories tested here is represented differently at the perceptual level, while relatively overlapping conceptual mechanisms allow for the preparation of impending potential interaction with the environment.
Original languageEnglish
Article number105625
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 26 Sept 2023


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