Visual information involving facial identity and expression is crucial for social communication. Although the influence of facial features such as spatial frequency (SF) and luminance on face processing in visual areas has been studied extensively using grayscale stimuli, the combined effects of other features in this process have not been characterized. To determine the combined effects of different SFs and color, we created chromatic stimuli with low, high or no SF components, which bring distinct SF and color information into the ventral stream simultaneously. To obtain neural activity data with high spatiotemporal resolution we recorded face-selective responses (M170) using magnetoencephalography. We used a permutation test procedure with threshold-free cluster enhancement to assess statistical significance while resolving problems related to multiple comparisons and arbitrariness found in traditional statistical methods. We found that time windows with statistically significant threshold levels were distributed differently among the stimulus conditions. Face stimuli containing any SF components evoked M170 in the fusiform gyrus (FG), whereas a significant emotional effect on M170 was only observed with the original images. Low SF faces elicited larger activation of the FG and the inferior occipital gyrus than the original images, suggesting an interaction between low and high SF information processing. Interestingly, chromatic face stimuli without SF first activated color-selective regions and then the FG, indicating that facial color was processed according to a hierarchy in the ventral stream. These findings suggest complex effects of SFs in the presence of color information, reflected in M170, and unveil the detailed spatiotemporal dynamics of face processing in the human brain.
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