The specialness of faces is seen in the face inversion effect, which disrupts the configural, but not the analytic, processing of faces. Mooney faces, which are processed holistically, allowed us to determine the contribution of holistic processing to the face inversion effect. As inverted Mooney faces are difficult to recognize as faces, we also included an intermediary training period for Mooney face recognition for half of the subjects. Early face-sensitive ERPs (N170 and P1) and P2 were measured.
Behavioral data showed an increase in correct responses to inverted and upright Mooney faces after the learning phase for the experimental group. No effects were seen on P1. N170 latency did not vary with stimulus type before the intermediary phase, however, N170 amplitude was consistently larger for upright than inverted Mooney faces. After the intermediary exercise, N170 was delayed for inverted compared to upright Mooney faces. In contrast, for both groups of subjects P2 amplitude was larger for nonface stimuli, and P2 amplitude decreased after the intermediate task only for the subjects trained to recognize Mooney faces.
As the usual inversion effect seen with photographic faces (delayed and larger N170) was not seen with Mooney faces, these data suggest that this effect on N170 is due to the recruitment of analytic processing. P2 reflected learning and a deeper processing of the stimuli that were not identifiable as faces.
Now at The Hospital for sick children, Toronto, Canada