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J. Tanaka, A. Porterfield; The search for self-identity: The own-face effect. Journal of Vision 2001;1(3):334. doi: 10.1167/1.3.334.
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Electrophysiological studies using event-related potentials (ERPs) have demonstrated that faces are differentiated from non-face objects at a relatively early point in processing (< 200 ms post-stimulus onset), but that differentiation of familiar and unfamiliar faces does not occur until a later stage (> 300 ms). It has been argued that the early and late ERP components reflect the early stage of structural encoding of a face and a later stage of face recognition. This argument rests on the insensitivity of early face-specific ERP components to manipulations of facial familiarity. Here we show that the early components of face processing are differentially responsive to at least one familiar face: one's own face. In our experiments, we recorded scalp potentials of participants to two kinds of “personally” familiar faces; the participant's own face and the faces of the participant's classmates or dorm mates. Our main finding was that participants demonstrated a greater N170 to their own face compared to other personally familiar faces (e.g., classmates and dorm mates) and other unfamiliar control faces. These results challenge the early versus late distinction between the structural encoding and recognition stages of face processing. At an early point of perceptual analysis, the face processing system seems to be sensitive to the identity of at least one face — the one belonging to ourselves.
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