Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience

, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 627-643

First online:

“Wanted!” The effects of reward on face recognition: electrophysiological correlates

  • Francesco MariniAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Milano-Bicocca Email author 
  • , Tessa MarziAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Florence Email author 
  • , Maria P. ViggianoAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Florence Email author 


The aim of the present study was to uncover the temporal dynamics of face recognition as a function of reward. Event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded during the encoding and the subsequent old/new memory test in response to faces that could be associated with a monetary reward. The behavioral results showed that faces associated with reward at both encoding and retrieval were recognized better than the unrewarded ones. ERP responses highlighted that successful encoding predictive of subsequent memory was greater for faces associated with reward than for faces without reward-driven motivational learning. At retrieval, an early positive-going component was elicited for potentially rewarded faces on frontal regions, while the occipito-temporal N170 component showed priming effects as a function of reward. Later on, larger centro-parietal ERP components, related to recognition memory, were found selectively for reward-associated faces. Remarkably, electrophysiological responses varied in a graded manner, with the largest amplitude yielded by faces with double reward, followed by faces associated with reward only at encoding. Taken together, the present data show that the processing of outcome expectations affects face structural encoding and increases memory efficiency, yielding a robust and sustained modulation over frontal and temporal areas where reward and memory mechanisms operate in conjunction.


ERP face recognition memory reward