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Nicole Sugden, Lan (Mary) Wei, Andrea Kusec, Margaret Moulson; Face, the final frontier: An ERP study probing processing of human and alien faces in Trekkies and non-Trekkies . Journal of Vision 2014;14(10):1259. doi: 10.1167/14.10.1259.
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Experience can change the face processing system in infancy (e.g., Kelly et al., 2009) and childhood (e.g., Sangrigoli et al., 2005). This flexibility is less evident in adulthood (Dufour et al., 2004), potentially due to age-related declines in plasticity. Alternatively, reduced flexibility may be due to changes in the environment that decrease the likelihood of massive, individuated experience with novel face types (see Scott & Monesson, 2009). One population that has this type of experience with novel face types, to which they likely had no exposure in early development, are fans of the science-fiction franchise Star Trek (i.e., Trekkies). To determine whether exposure to Star Trek alien faces changes the face-processing system we are comparing self-identified Trekkies' and non-Trekkies' behavioral and brain responses to Star Trek human and alien faces. Thirty-eight non-Trekkies and 5 Trekkies have been tested and recruitment is ongoing. In preliminary analyses, we found no difference in memory for human faces between the groups (t(36) = -.067, p = .947) and significantly greater memory for alien faces in Trekkies than non-Trekkies (t(36) = 3.45, p = .001). Non-Trekkies' memory performance did not significantly relate to how alien they rated alien faces to be, though there appears to be a trend in that direction (r = -.32, p = .073). We expect that Trekkies will show comparable face-specific ERP responses (N170) to human and alien faces and that non-Trekkies will show a clear difference in the N170 response to human vs. alien faces. These findings of increased specialization for alien faces in Trekkies would suggest that there remains flexibility in the adult face processing system. Future research should investigate how much experience with different face types is required to tune the adult face-processing system.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2014
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