Attention affects the recognition of briefly presented visual stimuli in infants: an ERP study


Address for correspondence: John E. Richards, Department of Psychology, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208, USA; e-mail:


This study examined the effect of attention in infants on the ERP changes occurring during the recognition of briefly presented visual stimuli. Infants at ages 4.5, 6 and 7.5 months were presented with a Sesame Street movie that elicited periods of attention and inattention, and computer-generated stimuli were presented overlaid on the movie for 500 ms. One stimulus was familiar to the infants and was presented frequently, a second stimulus was familiar but presented infrequently, and a set of 14 novel stimuli were presented infrequently. An ERP component labeled the ‘Nc’ (Negative Central, about 450–550 ms after stimulus onset) was larger during attention than inattention and increased in magnitude over the three testing ages during attention. Late slow waves in the ERP (from 1000 to 2000 ms post-stimulus onset) consisted of a positive slow wave in response to the infrequent familiar stimulus at all three testing ages. The late slow wave in response to the infrequent novel stimulus during attention was a positive slow wave for the 4.5-month-old infants, to a positive-negative slow wave for the 6-month-old infants and a negative slow wave for the 7.5-month-old infants. These results show attention facilitates the brain response during infant recognition memory and show that developmental changes in recognition memory are closely related to changes in attention.