What's special about personally familiar faces? A multimodal approach


  • This research was supported by a Socrates-Erasmus exchange studentship to G.H. while she was visiting Glasgow, by a grant by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (So 177/14-1) to W.S., and by grants by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (17/S14233) and the Royal Society to S.R.S.

Address reprint requests to: Grit Herzmann, Department of Psychology, Humboldt-University at Berlin, Rudower Chaussee 18, D-10099 Berlin, Germany. E-mail: grit.herzmann@cms.hu-berlin.de, or to Stefan R. Schweinberger, Department of Psychology, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, Scotland. E-mail: s.schweinberger@psy.gla.ac.uk.


Dual-route models of face recognition suggest separate cognitive and affective routes. The predictions of these models were assessed in recognition tasks with unfamiliar, famous, and personally familiar faces. Whereas larger autonomic responses were only triggered for personally familiar faces, priming effects in reaction times to these faces, presumably reflecting cognitive recognition processes, were equal to those of famous faces. Activation of stored structural representations of familiar faces (face recognition units) was assessed by recording the N250r component in event-related brain potentials. Face recognition unit activation increased from unfamiliar over famous to personally familiar faces, suggesting that there are stronger representations for personally familiar than for famous faces. Because the topographies of the N250r for personally and famous faces were indistinguishable, a similar network of face recognition units can be assumed for both types of faces.