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The sustained effect of emotional signals on neural processing in 12-month-olds


Address for correspondence: Jacqueline S. Leventon, Department of Psychology, 36 Eagle Row, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia 30322, USA; e-mail:


Around the end of the first year of life, infants develop a social referencing ability – using emotional information from others to guide their own behavior. Much research on social referencing has focused on changes in behavior in response to emotional information. The present study was an investigation of the changes in neural responses that underlie social referencing behavior, reflected in event-related potentials (ERPs). Twenty-six 12-month-olds participated in a single-session visit in which ERPs were recorded both immediately before and after a behavioral intervention in which infants' caregivers provided positive, negative or neutral information about each of three stimuli (ERP data available for = 17). After the intervention, infants devoted more neural resources to processing negative versus neutral and positive information, as observed in early and late positive-going components. Changes in neural responses from the pre- to post-intervention recordings clarify this observation, indicating a sustained response in the negative and positive conditions, and a decrease in the neutral condition, suggesting an attenuation effect in the neutral condition. Further, infants who attended most to the objects in the behavioral intervention showed increased neural responses in the negative condition and decreased responses in the positive condition. Taken together, these findings suggest that infants' neural responses are differentially affected by positive, negative and neutral information. Furthermore, the findings highlight the importance of measuring the change in neural responses to better interpret post-experience responses.