Published on Fri Jul 02 2021

Wild lab: A naturalistic free viewing experiment reveals previously unknown EEG signatures of face processing.

Gert, A. L., Ehinger, B. V., Timm, S., Kietzmann, T. C., Koenig, P.

Neural mechanisms of face perception are predominantly studied in well-controlled experimental settings that involve random stimulus sequences and fixed eye positions. Here, we demonstrate the feasibility of ecologically more valid experimental paradigms using natural viewing behavior.

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Abstract

Neural mechanisms of face perception are predominantly studied in well-controlled experimental settings that involve random stimulus sequences and fixed eye positions. While powerful, the employed paradigms are far from what constitutes natural vision. Here, we demonstrate the feasibility of ecologically more valid experimental paradigms using natural viewing behavior, by combining a free viewing paradigm on natural scenes, free of photographer bias, with advanced data processing techniques that correct for overlap effects and co-varying nonlinear dependencies of multiple eye movement parameters. We validate this approach by replicating classic N170 effects in neural responses, triggered by fixation onsets (fERPs). Importantly, our more natural stimulus paradigm yielded smaller variability between subjects than the classic setup. Moving beyond classic temporal and spatial effect locations, our experiment furthermore revealed previously unknown signatures of face processing. This includes modulation of early fERP components, as well as category-specific adaptation effects across subsequent fixations that emerge even before fixation onset.