Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Research about the neural basis of face recognition has investigated the timing and anatomical substrates of different stages of face processing. Scalp-recorded ERP studies of face processing have focused on the N170, an ERP with a peak latency of ∼170 msec that has long been associated with the initial structural encoding of faces. However, several studies have reported earlier ERP differences related to faces, suggesting that face-specific processes might occur before N170. Here, we examined the influence of face inversion and face race on the timing of face-sensitive scalp-recorded ERPs by examining neural responses to upright and inverted line-drawn and luminance-matched white and black faces in a sample of white participants. We found that the P100 ERP evoked by inverted faces was significantly larger than that evoked by upright faces. Although this inversion effect was statistically significant at 100 msec, the inverted-upright ERP difference peaked at 138 msec, suggesting that it might represent an activity in neural sources that overlap with P100. Inverse modeling of the inversion effect difference waveform suggested possible neural sources in pericalcarine extrastriate visual cortex and lateral occipito-temporal cortex. We also found that the inversion effect difference wave was larger for white faces. These results are consistent with behavioral evidence that individuals process the faces of their own races more configurally than faces of other races. Taken together, the inversion and race effects observed in the current study suggest that configuration influences face processing by at least 100 msec.