JOURNAL ARTICLE

Encoding of faces and objects into visual working memory: an event-related brain potential study

Bozana Meinhardt-Injac, Malte Persike, Stefan Berti
Neuroreport 2013 September 11, 24 (13): 735-40
23921593
Visual working memory (VWM) is an important prerequisite for cognitive functions, but little is known on whether the general perceptual processing advantage for faces also applies to VWM processes. The aim of the present study was (a) to test whether there is a general advantage for face stimuli in VWM and (b) to unravel whether this advantage is related to early sensory processing stages. To address these questions, we compared encoding of faces and complex nonfacial objects into VWM within a combined behavioral and event-related brain potential (ERP) study. In detail, we tested whether the N170 ERP component - which is associated with face-specific holistic processing - is affected by memory load for faces or whether it might be involved in WM encoding of any complex object. Participants performed a same-different task with either face or watch stimuli and with two different levels of memory load. Behavioral measures show an advantage for faces on the level of VWM, mirrored in higher estimated VWM capacity (i.e. Cowan's K) for faces compared with watches. In the ERP, the N170 amplitude was enhanced for faces compared with watches. However, the N170 was not modulated by working memory load either for faces or for watches. In contrast, the P3b component was affected by memory load irrespective of the stimulus category. Taken together, the results suggest that the VWM advantage for faces is not reflected at the sensory stages of stimulus processing, but rather at later higher-level processes as reflected by the P3b component.

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