All-or-none neural mechanisms underlying face categorization: evidence from the N170

Haiyang JIN*, William G HAYWARD, Paul M CORBALLIS

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Categorization of visual stimuli is an intrinsic aspect of human perception. Whether the cortical mechanisms underlying categorization operate in an all-or-none or graded fashion remains unclear. In this study, we addressed this issue in the context of the face-specific N170. Specifically, we investigated whether N170 amplitudes grade with the amount of face information available in an image, or a full response is generated whenever a face is perceived. We employed linear mixed-effects modeling to inspect the dependency of N170 amplitudes on stimulus properties and duration, and their relationships to participants’ subjective perception. Consistent with previous studies, we found a stronger N170 evoked by faces presented for longer durations. However, further analysis with equivalence tests revealed that this duration effect was eliminated when only faces perceived with high confidence were considered. Therefore, previous evidence supporting the graded hypothesis is more likely to be an artifact of mixing heterogeneous “all” and “none” trial types in signal averaging. These results support the hypothesis that the N170 is generated in an all-or-none manner and, by extension, suggest that categorization of faces may follow a similar pattern.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)777-793
Number of pages17
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number3
Early online date12 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

The authors thank Dr Veema Lodhia for assistance with data collection and wish to acknowledge the use of New Zealand eScience Infrastructure (NeSI) high performance computing facilities, consulting support and/or training services as part of this research. New Zealand’s national facilities are provided by NeSI and funded jointly by NeSI’s collaborator institutions and through the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment’s Research Infrastructure programme. URL

This work was supported by a China Scholarship Council grant ([2015]08330295) awarded to HJ and co-funded by a grant (HKU17608519) from the General Research Fund of the Hong Kong Research Grants Council to WGH.

© The Author(s) 2022. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: [email protected].


  • equivalence tests
  • event-related potentials
  • face categorization
  • graded responses
  • subjective perception


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