Rapid category selectivity for animals versus man-made objects: An N2pc study

Austin Moon, Chenxi He, Annie S. Ditta, Olivia S. Cheung, Rachel Wu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Visual recognition occurs rapidly at multiple categorization levels, including the superordinate level (e.g., animal), basic level (e.g., cat), or exemplar level (e.g., my cat). Visual search for animals is faster than for man-made objects, even when the images from those categories have comparable gist statistics (i.e., low- or mid-level visual information), which suggests that higher-level, conceptual influences may support this search advantage for animals. However, it remains unclear whether the search advantage can be explained in part by early visual search processes via the N2pc ERP component, which emerges earlier than behavioral responses, across different categorization levels. Participants searched for 1) an exact image (e.g., a specific squirrel image, Exemplar-level Search), 2) any images of an item (e.g., any squirrels, Basic-level Search), or 3) any items in a category (e.g., any animals, Superordinate-level Search). In addition to Target Present trials, Foil trials measured involuntary attentional selection of task-irrelevant images related to the targets (e.g., other squirrel images when searching for a specific squirrel image, or other animals when searching for squirrels). ERP results revealed 1) a larger N2pc amplitude during Foil trials in Exemplar-level Search for animals than man-made objects, and 2) faster onset latencies for animal search than man-made object search across all categorization levels. These results suggest that the search advantage for animals over man-made objects emerges early, and that attentional selection is more biased toward the basic-level (e.g., squirrel) for animals than for man-made objects during visual search.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20-28
Number of pages9
JournalInternational journal of psychophysiology : official journal of the International Organization of Psychophysiology
StatePublished - Jan 1 2022


  • Animals
  • Categorization
  • Man-made objects
  • N2pc
  • Visual search

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Physiology (medical)


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