Attention to faces modulates early face processing during low but not high face discriminability

Kartik K. Sreenivasan, Jonathan M. Goldstein, Audrey G. Lustig, Luis R. Rivas, Amishi P. Jha

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the present study, we investigated whether attention to faces results in sensory gain modulation. Participants were cued to attend either to faces or to scenes in superimposed face-scene images for which face discriminability was manipulated parametrically. The face-sensitive N170 event-related potential component was used as a measure of early face processing. Attention to faces modulated N170 amplitude, but only when faces were not highly discriminable. Additionally, directing attention to faces modulated later processing (~230-300 msec) for all discriminability levels. These results demonstrate that attention to faces can modulate perceptual processing of faces at multiple stages of processing, including early sensory levels. Critically, the early attentional benefit is present only when the "face signal" (i.e., the perceptual quality of the face) in the environment is suboptimal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)837-846
Number of pages10
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Linguistics and Language


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