An event-related potential component sensitive to images of the human body

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One of the critical functions of vision is to provide information about other individuals. Neuroimaging experiments examining the cortical regions that analyze the appearance of other people have found partially overlapping networks that respond selectively to human faces and bodies. In event-related potential (ERP) studies, faces systematically elicit a negative component peaking 170 ms after presentation — the N170. To characterize the electrophysiological response to human bodies, we compared the ERPs elicited by faces, bodies and various control stimuli. In Experiment 1, a comparison of ERPs elicited by faces, bodies, objects and places showed that pictures of the human body (without the head) elicit a negative component peaking at 190 ms (an N190). While broadly similar to the N170, the N190 differs in both spatial distribution and amplitude from the N1 components elicited by faces, objects and scenes and peaks significantly later than the N170. The difference between N190 and N170 was further supported using topographic analyses of ERPs and source localization techniques. A unique, stable map topography was found to characterize human bodies between 130 and 230 ms. In Experiment 2, we tested the four conditions from Experiment 1, as well as intact and scrambled silhouettes and stick figures of the human body. We found that intact silhouettes and stick figures elicited significantly greater N190 amplitudes than their scrambled counterparts. Thus, the N190 generalizes to some degree to schematic depictions of the human form. Overall, our findings are consistent with intertwined, but functionally distinct, neural representations of the human face and body.

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