- Previous behavioral studies have suggested that the automaticity of face recognition depends on familiarity. We sought converging evidence for this claim using electrophysiological measures. In Experiment 1, participants first rated their familiarity with 6 male celebrities. They then performed dual tasks in which Task 1 required a tone/noise discrimination. For Task 2, the faces of one well-known and one less-known actors were presented side-by-side. Participants indicated the location (left vs. right) of the target actor, whose identity was specified prior to each block. The interval between the two tasks (stimulus onset asynchrony; SOA) was varied. The key question was whether people could direct their attention to the Task-2 target face at short SOAs, while central resources were still working on Task 1. We answered this using the N2pc component, as an index of whether and when participants shifted attention to the target face. We found that the N2pc was similar across all SOAs for the well-known, familiar actors, indicating that attention shifted to the target face without delay, even when central resources were unavailable. However, the N2pc was greatly attenuated with decreasing SOAs for the less-known, unfamiliar actors, indicating that participants could not shift attention to that face while central resources were busy with Task 1. This finding was replicated in Experiment 2, where different celebrities were used. We concluded that face recognition can occur automatically but only for highly familiar faces.