Enhanced cardiac and attentional responding to fearful faces in 7-month-old infants


  • This work was supported by the Finnish National Doctoral Programme of Psychology and the Academy of Finland (projects #131786, 130272, 130895, and 218284).

Address correspondence to: Mikko Peltola, Human Information Processing Laboratory, Department of Psychology, FIN-33014 University of Tampere, Finland. E-mail: mikko.peltola@uta.fi


Orienting of attention to emotionally negative stimuli is accompanied by rapid heart rate (HR) deceleration, reflecting enhanced attentional and sensory processing. We studied whether similar emotional modulation of cardiac responding is observed in infants. HR and eye movements were recorded from 7-month-old infants while they observed a fearful or happy face that was flanked after 700 ms by a peripheral distractor for 2000 ms. An attentional bias for fearful faces was indicated by less frequent and longer latency saccades toward the distractors during fearful than happy trials. HR deceleration was significantly larger during fearful than happy trials on which infants did not make a distractor-directed saccade. For trials with a distractor-directed saccade, no difference between fearful and happy faces emerged. Thus, the bias to attend preferentially to fearful faces is accompanied by a concomitant increase in the cardiac orienting response.