Why Some Faces won't be Remembered: Brain Potentials Illuminate Successful Versus Unsuccessful Encoding for Same-Race and Other-Race Faces
Evidence from brain-damaged patients suggests different memory systems for verbal and nonverbal stimuli which also have different neuroanatomical substrates. We explored whether the scalp topographies of event-related potentials (ERPs) might confirm the dissociability of these systems. Unfamiliar faces and names were presented in separate conditions, study blocks alternating with recognition blocks. During recognition the familiarity of each stimulus was rated on a 4-point scale. The amplitudes of the ERPs to the study items were monotonically related in size to the mean subsequent familiarity ratings. Memory-related ERP differences (Dm) were calculated by subtracting ERPs recorded during the study phase to items with low subsequent familiarity ratings from items with high familiarity ratings. The Dm for faces and names showed stimulus-specific scalp topographies between 400 and 800 ms. These findings confirm that memory for names and faces is mediated by at least partially different brain systems.