Although configural processing is considered a hallmark of normal face perception in humans, there is ample evidence that processing face components also contributes to face recognition and identification. Indeed, most contemporary models posit a dual-code view in which face identification relies on the analysis of individual face components as well as the spatial relations between them. We explored the interplay between processing face configurations and inner face components by recording the N170, an event-related potential component that manifests early detection of faces. In contrast to a robust N170 effect elicited by line-drawn schematic faces compared to line-drawn schematic objects, no N170 effect was found if a pair of small objects substituted for the eyes in schematic faces. However, if a pair of two miniaturized faces substituted for the eyes, the N170 effect was restored. Additional experiments ruled out an explanation on the basis of miniaturized faces attracting attention independent of their location in a face-like configuration and show that global and local face characteristics compete for processing resources when in conflict. The results are discussed as they relate to normal and abnormal face processing.

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