Temporal dynamics of awareness for facial identity revealed with ERP

Melanie Genetti, Asaid Khateb, Severine Heinzer, Christoph M. Michel, Alan J. Pegna

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this study, we investigated the scalp recorded event-related potential (ERP) responses related to visual awareness. A backward masking procedure was performed while high-density EEG recordings were carried out. Subjects were asked to detect a familiar face, presented at durations that varied parametrically between 16 and 266 ms. ERPs were computed and awareness was assessed using a sensitivity measure from signal detection theory (d′). Modifications in the electrical scalp topographies were found to reflect visual awareness of the stimulus. In particular, an early map topography was found to emerge progressively around 230 ms, showing a pattern of increase similar to the measure of visual awareness. This was followed by an increase in duration of a second, P300-like map. Source localisation for the early awareness-related topography revealed the activation of a distributed network of brain areas including frontal and temporo-occipital regions. Our results suggest that conscious experience emerges in parallel with the activation of a specific neural network that occurs in a time window beginning from about 200 ms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)296-305
Number of pages10
JournalBrain and Cognition
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2009
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This investigation was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation for Scientific Research (Grants #320000-109928 and #325100-118362).

Funding Information:
The Cartool software ( http://brainmapping.unige.ch/Cartool.htm ) has been programmed by Denis Brunet, from the Functional Brain Mapping Laboratory, Geneva, Switzerland, and is supported by the Center for Biomedical Imaging (CIBM) of Geneva and Lausanne. Statistical advice was provided by the Clinical Research Center, Geneva University Hospital (Delphine Courvoisier).


  • Consciousness
  • EEG
  • Faces
  • Perception
  • Vision

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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