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Emotion Processing in Infancy and Early Childhood

The Development and Neural Bases of Emotion Processing

Brief Description

The purpose of this study is to investigate the development of emotion processing in the first three years of life. Specifically, we are interested in how babies recognize, process, and respond to faces expressing different emotions. To learn about this, we will measure brain activity, eye movements, and physiological responses while babies watch pictures of human or animal faces displaying different emotions.

Eligibility for Participation

We are currently enrolling typically developing infants:

  • at 5, 7, and 12 months of age
  • Born within 3 weeks of due date

Participation Details

This study involves one visit to the lab. Sessions typically last about an hour and a half, and will be scheduled at a time that is convenient for you and your child. Parents stay with their child at all times. In addition, we will contact you for an optional follow-up visit when your child turns three years old.

Research Contacts

Sarah McCormick (Nelson Laboratory)

Perry Dinardo (Nelson Laboratory)

Anna Zhou (Nelson Laboratory

You may also reach us at 857-218-3660 or emotion.project@childrens.harvard.edu.

Full Description

The ability to read emotions in facial expressions is a critical skill that helps us to navigate our social world. For example, being able to recognize a fearful, happy, or angry face is key to interacting successfully with the people around us. In the current study, we aim to understand how this ability emerges and evolves in infancy and throughout early childhood. To do this, we will measure the brain’s response to a range of emotional faces. We will also use eye-tracking to monitor how babies look at these faces, measures of skin conductance (sweat) to examine physiological response, and we will collect saliva samples for genetic analysis. By using these varied methods we aim to create a comprehensive picture that charts the developmental course of emotion processing throughout infancy and early childhood, including the underlying neural architecture.

Ultimately, we aim to shed light on how early emotion processing influences later-emerging social-cognitive behaviors, and how these behavioral processes can be influenced by early experience and brain development. If we can create a road map for the typical development of these neural networks, we can potentially identify early markers for children who may be at risk for later issues such as anxiety or mood disorders. Early identification would allow for earlier intervention, which generally leads to better outcomes for children and their families.

Emotion Project Newsletter

Winter 2015 (new!)



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