Social perception of faces: Brain imaging and subjective ratings

Peter Walla (Corresponding author), Minah Chang, Katrin Schäfer, Sonja Windhager

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The aim of this study was to investigate how a female face is perceived in terms of its attractiveness, dominance, health, femininity-masculinity, and maturity in direct relation to the body fat percentage (BFP) conveyed by the face. To compare how young adults (ages 18 to 35) respond to different levels of body fat percentage both subjectively and objectively we collected survey ratings and electroencephalography (EEG) data across five different levels of BFP from 40 participants. We adapted the experimental design from a prior behavioral study and used calibrated and morphed female face images of five different BFP levels. The results of the survey are in consensus with the previous study and assessed to be a successful replication. From the EEG data, event-related potentials (ERPs) were extracted from one electrode location (right occipitotemporal brain region) known to be particularly sensitive to face-stimuli. We found statistically significant differences in the amplitudes of the P200 component (194 ms post stimulus onset) between the thickest face and all four other BFP conditions, and in the amplitudes of the N300 component (274 ms post stimulus onset) between the average face and three other BFP conditions. As expected, there were no significant differences among the N170 amplitudes of all five BFP conditions since this ERP component simply reflects the processing of faces in general. From these results, we can infer that holistic face encoding characterized by the N170 component in the right occipitotemporal area is followed by serial evaluative processes, whose categorical and qualitative matrix and spatiotemporal dynamics should be further explored in future studies, especially in relation to the social constructs that were focused on in this study.
Original languageEnglish
Article number861
Number of pages13
JournalBrain Sciences
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 16 Nov 2020

Austrian Fields of Science 2012

  • 106018 Human biology
  • 106056 Biological anthropology


  • AREA
  • EEG
  • ERP
  • N170
  • N300
  • P200
  • attractiveness
  • body fat percentage
  • dominance
  • face processing
  • facial adiposity
  • health
  • masculinity
  • maturity
  • social neuroscience
  • social perception
  • Masculinity
  • Facial adiposity
  • Attractiveness
  • Body fat percentage
  • Face processing
  • Social perception
  • Health
  • Dominance
  • Social neuroscience
  • Maturity

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