Emotional Faces and Developmental Changes in Attention

Brief Description

In this study, we are interested in how babies learn to recognize facial expressions of emotion, an ability that develops very early in life. To learn more about how the ability to process facial emotions develops in different areas of the brain, we will measure babies’ brain activity and eye movements while they look at pictures of different facial expressions. We are particularly interested in how brain activity in response to emotional expressions changes between 5 and 7 months.

Eligibility for Participation

We are currently enrolling typically developing 5 and 7 month olds for this study.

  • Infants: 5 and 7 months old
  • Born within 2 weeks of due date 

Participation Details

This study involves two visits to the lab. The sessions will generally last about an hour and will be scheduled at a time that is convenient for you and your child. Parents will be with their child at all times. 

Full Description

Previous studies have shown that, between 5 and 7 months of age, developmental changes take place in babies’ ability to recognize and respond to facial expressions of emotion. At 7 months, babies prefer to look at faces that express emotions, such as fear, whereas 5 month olds do not yet show this preference. The purpose of the current study is to investigate where and how this developmental shift occurs in the brain. We hypothesize that during this period of development certain areas of the brain reach functional maturation, specifically a network that includes emotion-related neural systems like the amygdala, as well as visual and attention-related systems. As a result, by 7 months babies begin to show this preference for faces that show an expression of emotion.

The ability to perceive and identify emotions in faces is crucial to maintaining successful social interactions. By learning more about how these brain systems develop, we aim to gain insight into typical patterns of emotional and social development. In gaining a better understanding of these typical patterns we also hope to shed light on how and why these patterns often differ in individuals with certain disorders, including anxiety and autism spectrum disorders. We also hope that our work will be useful for future studies examining individual differences in emotion processing.