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An ERP Study of Emotional Face Processing in the Adult and Infant Brain


  • This study was supported in part by grants from the Academy of Finland and Finnish Cultural Foundation to the first author and NIH (NS32976) to the fourth author. The data for this study were collected during the time the first author was a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, and the fourth author was on the faculty at the University of Minnesota. We thank Ethan Schwer for his help in data collection.

concerning this article should be addressed to Jukka M. Leppänen, Human Information Processing Laboratory, Department of Psychology, University of Tampere, Tampere, FIN-33014 Finland. Electronic mail may be sent to


To examine the ontogeny of emotional face processing, event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded from adults and 7-month-old infants while viewing pictures of fearful, happy, and neutral faces. Face-sensitive ERPs at occipital–temporal scalp regions differentiated between fearful and neutral/happy faces in both adults (N170 was larger for fear) and infants (P400 was larger for fear). Behavioral measures showed no overt attentional bias toward fearful faces in adults, but in infants, the duration of the first fixation was longer for fearful than happy faces. Together, these results suggest that the neural systems underlying the differential processing of fearful and happy/neutral faces are functional early in life, and that affective factors may play an important role in modulating infants' face processing.