The Emergence and Stability of the Attentional Bias to Fearful Faces in Infancy


Correspondence should be sent to Mikko Peltola, Human Information Processing Laboratory, School of Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Tampere, 33014 Tampere, Finland. E-mail:


Several studies have shown that at 7 months of age, infants display an attentional bias toward fearful facial expressions. In this study, we analyzed visual attention and heart rate data from a cross-sectional study with 5-, 7-, 9-, and 11-month-old infants (Experiment 1) and visual attention from a longitudinal study with 5- and 7-month-old infants (Experiment 2) to examine the emergence and stability of the attentional bias to fearful facial expressions. In both experiments, the attentional bias to fearful faces appeared to emerge between 5 and 7 months of age: 5-month-olds did not show a difference in disengaging attention from fearful and nonfearful faces, whereas 7- and 9-month-old infants had a lower probability of disengaging attention from fearful than nonfearful faces. Across the age groups, heart rate (HR) data (Experiment 1) showed a more pronounced and longer-lasting HR deceleration to fearful than nonfearful expressions. The results are discussed in relation to the development of the perception and experience of fear and the interaction between emotional and attentional processes.