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Using Saliency Maps to Separate Competing Processes in Infant Visual Cognition


  • We wish to thank Wolf Kienzle and Felix Wichmann for making their “nonparametric saliency” software available for our analysis, as well as the parents and infants who took part in this study. This work was supported by European Commission contract MEST-CT-2005-020725.

concerning this article should be addressed to Nadja Althaus, Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3UD, United Kingdom. Electronic mail may be sent to


This article presents an eye-tracking study using a novel combination of visual saliency maps and “area-of-interest” analyses to explore online feature extraction during category learning in infants. Category learning in 12-month-olds (N = 22) involved a transition from looking at high-saliency image regions to looking at more informative, highly variable object parts. In contrast, 4-month-olds (N = 27) exhibited a different pattern displaying a similar decreasing impact of saliency accompanied by a steady focus on the object’s center, indicating that targeted feature extraction during category learning develops across the 1st year of life. These results illustrate how the effects of lower and higher level processes may be disentangled using a combined saliency map and area-of-interest analysis.