Neural Processing of Eye Gaze and Threat-Related Emotional Facial Expressions in Infancy

Authors


  • This research was supported by the Sofja Kovalevskaja Award granted by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and donated by the Federal Ministry of Education to T.S. We thank Christine Heinisch for assistance with testing. We are grateful to the infants and parents who participated and to the Universitätsfrauenklinik and the Klinikum St. Georg for support and assistance with recruitment.

concerning this article should be addressed to Stefanie Hoehl, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Neuropsychology Department, Stephanstrasse 1a, 04103 Leipzig, Germany or Tricia Striano, Hunter College, 695 Park Avenue, New York, NY. Electronic mail may be sent to hoehl@cbs.mpg.de or tstriano@hunter.cuny.edu.

Abstract

Combined with emotional expressions, eye gaze can provide essential information to indicate threat in the environment. The current study assessed the effects of eye gaze direction on infants’ neural processing of fearful and angry faces. Event-related potentials were recorded from thirteen 7-month-old infants. Two face-sensitive posterior components, the N290 and P400, as well as a frontocentral negative component (Nc), indicating attentional arousal, were sensitive to eye gaze direction and emotion. A larger Nc was observed for angry faces with direct compared to averted eye gaze. Fearful faces elicited a larger N290 than angry faces, whereas angry faces elicited a more prominent P400 regardless of eye gaze direction. The findings are discussed in terms of early social cognitive and neural development.

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