The Other Gender Effect

Brief Description

In this study, we are interested in learning more about the development of facial recognition in infants. In particular, we want to explore how extensive experience with a particular gender may impact an infant’s behavior, memory, and brain activity as he or she looks at images of adult male and female faces. In order to help us explore these questions, we aim to measure the amount of time each infant participant spends with male caretakers and/or female caretakers before completing the study.

Eligibility for Study Participation

We are currently recruiting typically-developing seven month olds for this study.

  • Infants: 7 months old
  • born within +/- 2 weeks of due date, with
  • male(s) as primary caretaker(s)
  • female(s) as primary caretaker(s)
  • approximately equal male/female caregiving

Participation Details

This study involves one visit to the Labs. Sessions will last about 1.5 hours and will be scheduled at a time that is convenient for both you and your child. You will be with your child at all times.

Full Description

When infants are born they have a very wide perceptual window through which they are able to process all different kinds of stimuli. As they grow and develop, their brains begin to tune in to those objects in the world that are most functionally significant. In other words, they become better at processing the kinds of objects, such as faces, that are most common in their environment. This process is known as perceptual narrowing. Over the course of the first year, infants quickly develop a specific set of brain networks to help them interpret faces, which are a special class of object and carry important social cues like identity and emotion. As part of this process, infants are already beginning to “specialize” in the kinds of faces they see most often. In fact, previous research has demonstrated that adults are “face experts” who are most adept at recognizing and remembering faces of their own race, gender, age, and species.

In the current study, we will examine infants’ discrimination of male and of female faces while taking into consideration the infants' experiential history with faces of different sexes. We specifically aim to recruit participants who have varying degrees of experience with male and female caretakers. An in-depth questionnaire, administered at the beginning of the session, will help us to establish an approximate male to female “care giving ratio” for each child.

Using our Tobii Eye Tracking system, we will be able to track each participant’s eye movements as they are presented with photographs of male and female faces in a simple discrimination task. In a separate task, we will record the infant’s brain activity (or EEG) as he or she looks at a series of male and female faces. In this part of the session, repeated stimuli will help us to determine how differential experience with either males or females can affect an infant’s ability to recognize and remember the two different categories of faces.

The results of this study will not only further our understanding of the typical development of facial recognition strategies, but will also provide an important baseline against which we can measure the behavior and looking patterns of children who show differences in facial recognition, such as children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders.