This study is designed to examine whether different facial expressions have an influence on visual attention in 7-month-old infants. Specifically, we are interested in whether it takes longer for infants to disengage their attention from fearful as compared to happy faces. If this proves to be the case, it would indicate that 7-month-old infants already have some understanding of the social meaning of fearful faces.
Previous studies on the development of emotional face processing have shown that by 7 months of age, infants have the ability to categorize (i.e., to recognize the same expressions posed by different models to a common class) at least happy and surprised expressions, while the recognition of negative emotions (e.g., fear and anger) seems to be less developed. However, by the same age, infants show an attentional preference for fearful over happy faces. This is shown in looking time and electrophysiological measures. Such attentional preference could be considered to reflect a rudimentary understanding of the social meaning of fearful faces in 7-month-olds.
In the present study we will examine this hypothesis in more detail. We will track infants' eye movements while they are presented with a task designed to assess disengagement of visual attention from different facial expressions. This study will be important in highlighting the co-development of emotional and attentional processes and in further determining whether infants as young as 7 months of age are able to recognize the social meaning conveyed by fearful faces.
Read about our findings from this study!