Chinese characters elicit face-like N170 inversion effects

Man Ying Wang, Bo Cheng Kuo, Shih Kuen Cheng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Recognition of both faces and Chinese characters is commonly believed to rely on configural information. While faces typically exhibit behavioral and N170 inversion effects that differ from non-face stimuli (Rossion, Joyce, Cottrell, & Tarr, 2003), the current study examined whether a similar reliance on configural processing may result in similar inversion effects for faces and Chinese characters. Participants were engaged in an orientation judgment task (Experiment 1) and a one-back identity matching task (Experiment 2). Across two experiments, the N170 was delayed and enhanced in magnitude for upside-down faces and compound Chinese characters, compared to upright stimuli. The inversion effects for these two stimulus categories were bilateral for latency and right-lateralized for amplitudes. For simple Chinese characters, only the latency inversion effects were significant. Moreover, the size of the right-hemisphere inversion effects in N170 amplitude was larger for faces than Chinese characters. These findings show the N170 inversion effects from non-face stimuli closely parallel effects seen with faces. Face-like N170 inversion effects elicited by Chinese compound characters were attributed to the difficulty of part-whole integration as well as the disrupted regularity in relational information due to inversion. Hemispheric difference in Chinese character processing is also discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)419-431
Number of pages13
JournalBrain and Cognition
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 2011


  • Chinese characters
  • Configural processing
  • Faces
  • Inversion effect
  • N170


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