Face configuration affects speech perception: Evidence from a McGurk mismatch negativity study

Kasper Eskelund, Ewen MacDonald, Tobias Andersen

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Abstract

We perceive identity, expression and speech from faces. While perception of identity and expression depends crucially on the configuration of facial features it is less clear whether this holds for visual speech perception.

Facial configuration is poorly perceived for upside-down faces as demonstrated by the Thatcher illusion in which the orientation of the eyes and mouth with respect to the face is inverted (Thatcherization). This gives the face a grotesque appearance but this is only seen when the face is upright.

Thatcherization can likewise disrupt visual speech perception but only when the face is upright indicating that facial configuration can be important for visual speech perception. This effect can propagate to auditory speech perception through audiovisual integration so that Thatcherization disrupts the McGurk illusion in which visual speech perception alters perception of an incongruent acoustic phoneme. This is known as the McThatcher effect.

Here we show that the McThatcher effect is reflected in the McGurk mismatch negativity (MMN). The MMN is an event-related potential elicited by a change in auditory perception. The McGurk-MMN can be elicited by a change in auditory perception due to the McGurk illusion without any change in the acoustic stimulus.

We found that Thatcherization disrupted a strong McGurk illusion and a correspondingly strong McGurk-MMN only for upright faces. This confirms that facial configuration can be important for audiovisual speech perception. For inverted faces we found a weaker McGurk illusion but, surprisingly, no MMN. We also found no correlation between the strength of the McGurk illusion and the amplitude of the McGurk-MMN. We suggest that this may be due to a threshold effect so that a strong McGurk illusion is required to elicit the McGurk-MMN.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNeuropsychologia
Volume66
Pages (from-to)48-54
ISSN0028-3932
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Keywords

  • Multisensory
  • Audiovisual
  • Speech perception
  • Face perception
  • Mismatch negativity
  • EEG

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